Remember 2019? It’s hard to believe, but important, non-coronavirus-related things happened. Lots of them, actually. And soon you’ll be able to see photographs of these events at the State Library of New South Wales.

Every year for the past 20 years, the State Library has hosted the World Press Photo Exhibition, which showcases the most captivating photojournalism of the previous year. The State Library is the only Australian venue that hosts the exhibition, and, thanks to the low number of coronavirus cases in NSW, this year’s exhibition is going ahead – although there will be sanitising stations, one-way traffic and staggered entry. (Read more about the public-health measures here.)

“During these strange and troubling times, this exhibition is a powerful reminder of why photojournalism is such a vital part of documenting what is happening to us all around the world,” says State Librarian Doctor John Vallance.

In the era of fake news, where objective facts are treated as up for debate, quality photojournalism is more important than ever. You can disagree with headlines, opinions and reporting, but it’s hard to argue with a striking image. And these are memorable photographs – there are 150 in total, taken by 44 photographers from 24 countries.  

Australian photographers are well-represented, both in their coverage of local and international events. Some images depict the chaos of the bushfires this past summer – included is Matthew Abbott’s now-iconic photo of a kangaroo bounding through the flames. Sean Davey’s picture of children playing under eerie-coloured skies at a bushfire-evacuation centre in Bega was awarded second prize in the Contemporary Issues (Singles) category.

The winner of the prestigious Photo of the Year award – Straight Voice by Nairobi-based Japanese photographer Yasuyoshi Chiba – will sear itself into your mind. Taken on June 19, 2019 in the middle of a blackout, it depicts Sudanese protestors in Khartoum calling for civilian rule. They recite protest poetry, illuminated by phone flashlights. Seeing it on a screen doesn’t do it in justice – it deserves to be seen and scrutinised in person.

The World Press Photo Exhibition 2020 runs from August 15 to October 18. More information here.