For the second year in row, Aegon and the World Press Photo Foundation work together to bring you the stories that matter.
On the surface it may seem like an odd pairing – a heritage brand in financial services partnering with photojournalism.
But if you look under the surface you see that Aegon and the World Press Photo Foundation have more in common than perhaps either of our stakeholders realize. Collectively, Aegon and the World Press Photo Foundation have close to 240 years of experience documenting and supporting the stories and moments that matter in a person’s life.
There are also other interesting similarities. Aegon's CEO Lard Friese and World Press Photo’s Executive Director Joumana El Zein Khoury both joined their companies in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are the strategic visions for the future: who will each become as an organization – focusing on where each can make a real difference, how do both want to be seen, and how can we ensure we stay relevant for our customer’s needs both now and well into the future.
And here brings us to the stories.
Photo of the year
Images rights: The First Embrace – Mads Nissen / Politiken/ Panos Pictures
Why a story matters
Stories and images inspire us. They help us talk about deeply emotional and painful experiences, but also help us smile, feel hopeful and believe change is possible. Stories have the sort of impact that mission and vision statements lack. Stories can help us understand the moments and the context in which these stories happen, but "you have to have an open mind," explains Joumana El Zein Khoury, "[stories can] give you the understanding of a context that you might not know, you might not see, or it allows you to see [it] in a totally different way."
"We each have a story to tell," Kata Herczog, Head of Brand Experience says, "each time a customer calls us, they are telling us a piece of their story. Sometimes those stories are exciting; like when a customer calls to buy a new house or is about to have a baby. But sometimes, especially in the context of 2020, we heard the sadder side of the stories. In each moment, Aegon was there. We are there for the stories that matter in our customers' lives."
Images rights: Home Training – Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Changing the perception: the Aegon and World Press Photo partnership
It is the story of the ordinary citizen who Aegon and World Press Photo find the most moving. It is the person defying expectations, changing the perception of what it means to age, retire, be a mother, be widowed, be a citizen, a sportsman, or countless other titles.
"When it comes to aging, the financial services industry has a habit of telling very similar stories, often showing traditional images of happy couples walking on the beach or the 'scary picture' of what happens if you don’t save for your future. That imagery had a place in the past, but what our research and wider trends show is that people want to see something that is more relatable," Kata explains. "What we see, especially in the photos from World Press, is a world where photojournalism is also trying to show how we can challenge these perceptions. Older individuals are training for triathlons at home like in the photograph Home Training or playing bridge with a younger generation as in the story Faces of Bridge. There was also the World Press Photo of the Year – The First Embrace – that really spoke to us. Arms wrapped around an elderly woman with the plastic making an outline of an angel’s wings, was an amazing representation of the beauty of life overcoming tragedy."
"The images of our contests are relatable," says Joumana, "You can see yourself in those images. And they speak to who you are and how you might feel. These relate to us no matter where we are, how rich or poor, how sick or healthy we are, we are just all emotions at the end of the day. And seeing these emotions through these images through the eyes of another human makes you realize we are all in this together somehow."
Images rights: Faces of Bridge – Henrik Hansson
The 2021 World Press Photo Contest winners
Being "in it together" could have easily been the tag line for 2020. Like most organizations over the past year, much of World Press Photo’s work shifted online. This included the jury deliberation phase of the competition and the awards ceremony itself.
With almost 10,000 people joining from all over world, the online awards ceremony was not only a success, but something that the organization will take moving forward in a post-COVID world.
Of the 74,000 photographs entered in the 2021 competition, there was naturally an emphasis on COVID-19, but what the jury saw was the different angles of the pandemic. "We got to see the 'hard core' COVID images with the first responders, which were very daunting. But then we got to see images like The First Embrace, which ended up being our Photo of the Year, which was a hopeful image," Joumana explains.
Of course, COVID wasn't the only photography subject matter taking newspaper and social media headlines, "It was about so much social unrest from around the world. There were the Black Lives Matter protests, the explosion in Beirut, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. But there were also the environmental stories. What I did find interesting was that so many of the stories were very intimate," says Joumana.
And here we come back again to the stories. What was your headline story for the year? What was your moment that mattered? Was it joyful, seeped in sorrow, hopeful? Everyone has a story to tell and for the moments that matter we'll be there.
To see the full list of 2021 winners, please click here.