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Photographers Challenged to Capture the Meaning of Democracy

08 July 2010

"Democracy Photo Challenge" competition launched July 7

By Jane A. Morse
Staff Writer

Washington - First there was the Democracy Video Challenge. Then there was the Democracy Is Twitter Contest. Now still photographers will get their chance with the Democracy Photo Challenge.

The contest, launched July 7, challenges people around the world to finish the phrase "Democracy is ..." with an original photo that captures their view of democracy as it appears among the people, communities and sights around them. The contest runs from July 7 to July 28, 2010. An independent jury will announce 36 finalists on August 19, and the public will select 12 winners during a global online vote from August 19 to August 26. The winners will be announced on the United Nations International Day of Democracy, September 15, with the winning photographs exhibited at the United Nations in New York - and, later, at other venues around the United States.

The photo contest is an offshoot of the enormously successful Democracy Video Challenge contest, which has attracted more than 1,600 submissions from 111 countries since its launch in 2008. In January 2010, more than 1,400 people worldwide participated in the Democracy Is Twitter Contest.

The "Democracy is ..." series of contests is an effort by a unique public-private partnership to engage citizens around the world in a global conversation about democracy.

"Freedom of expression is central to the very concept of democracy, as is a recognition and respect for the diversity of perspectives that result," says Maria Otero, under secretary for democracy and global affairs at the U.S. Department of State, who represents the U.S. government side of the partnership. "The Democracy Photo Challenge embodies this spirit of sharing and listening by challenging people to show what democracy is in their lives, through the lens of photography, on the global forum of the Internet. We look forward to seeing what insights the challenge will unveil about the personal experiences of democracy in the world we live in."

Phil Borges is one of the jury co-chairmen for the Democracy Photo Challenge. Himself a documentary photographer and founder of the nonprofit Bridges to Understanding, Borges said the contest is "the ideal marriage of individual self-expression and global dialogue. Photography gives the world an opportunity to see the human condition through the eyes of another. Social media gives the world the power to talk about it."

The other two co-chairmen are Willis Hartshorn, Ehrenkranz director of the International Center of Photography, and Louie Psihoyos, Academy Award-winning documentary director (The Cove), photographer and executive director of the Oceanic Preservation Society.

Photo entries will be judged on their effectiveness in illustrating what "democracy is" (60 percent); technical qualities such as lighting, focus and composition (20 percent); and level of artistic creativity (20 percent).

"The best photos get to the heart of an issue instantly," according to Psihoyos. "A single image can make an activist of someone who has no cause and shed light on issues that are lurking in the shadows."

"The power of the visual image is undeniable," observed Geoffrey Baum, managing director of the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy and a partner in the "Democracy is ..." effort. "Thanks to digital cameras and mobile phones, a single picture can reach across borders to educate and connect people and communities. The Democracy Photo Challenge provides an unparalleled opportunity for individuals to tell powerful stories that illustrate the wonderful experiment we call democracy."

People around the world can track updates and join the real-time democracy conversation online at

"Democracy is ..." partners and participating organizations include the

For contest rules, see