World-class Chilean photographer Tomás Munita has taken home World Press Photo’s third place prize in the daily life stories category. His twelve image photo essay El Salvador Gangs portrays a graphic account of El Salvadorian gang members both in and out of jail.
“For me, photography is an additional language,” Munita told The New York Times. “Different from words, it can immediately touch on an emotional aspect of what is being treated. Images, beyond being proof of truth, can help us understand our reality in a direct way.”
Thirty-seven year-old Munita studied photography in Santiago and worked for a local paper before finding a job with The Associated Press in Panama. His world-class photos have been published in TIME magazine, National Geographic, and GEO, and he has won prizes such as the ICP Young Photographer Infinity Award and the Henri Nannen Preis. He also took home two additional World Press Photo awards in 2006.
Munita’s photography centers around social issues, and he has focused on subjects in Latin America, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
The jarring images that comprise El Salvador Gangs depict sparse light and ample tattoos, some men whose entire faces are slashed with ink. Softer images are interspersed throughout the collection, such as inmates gathered at a church ceremony, although the overall tone is grim.
The collection culminates with a family identifying their nephew at a morgue, and a visceral image of a the corpse of a former gang member. This moving series sheds light on the plight of a country that has been torn apart by violence and continues to struggle in hopes of overcoming this legacy.
“It is important in the news to go into people, to create bridges, not just to document or make good interesting pictures but to bring understanding,” Munita told Bak Magazine in an online interview. It’s clear that his photo essay aims to achieve this ideal.
Munita offered encouraging words to all those youth considering photography as a profession.
“I always suggest to young photographers…don’t wait for an editor to ask you go and work on… the subject that you dream to do, just take your time and do it by yourself. Don’t even think of making money out of it, that’s another story, just make pictures of whatever you want, be a photographer.”
To see the entire award-winning photo essay El Salvador Gangs, visit World Press Photo’s website. 2013’s prized photos will begin world tour at the end of April, scheduled to arrive in Santiago from Aug. 1 – Sept. 2 in the Telefonica Tower. Here is a complete schedule of the exhibition’s dates.
Check out This is Chile’s interview with Munita for more on the photographer’s favorite places to photograph in Chile.