World Press Photo Contest produces stunning images for 2012

The annual World Press Photo Contest has now been running for over 55 years and has encouraged the highest standards in photojournalism. The contest allows the public to fully appreciate the work of the professionals in photojournalism and as the winners makes headlines around the world, so the inspirational role of photojournalism is highlighted to an audience of hundreds of millions.

Once the contest has been judged, and the winners announced, the prize-winning photographs are assembled into an exhibition that travels to 45 countries over the course of a year, and published in a yearbook. The exhibition attracts over two million people in hundreds of different venues to see the images, and the yearbook is published in seven languages and distributed worldwide.

The contest is judged by leading experts in visual journalism who represent various aspects of the profession. The composition of the jury is changed from year to year, they operate independently, and a secretary who has no vote safeguards the fair and balanced judging procedure. The exhibition is now showing at the Southbank Centre, Festival Hall London until November 27.

Below are just a few of the iconic images, captured in this year’s contest.

Maria, a drug-addicted sex worker, rests between clients in the room she rents in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine. Brent Stirton

Fatima al-Qaws cradles her son Zayed (18), who is suffering from the effects of tear gas after participating in a street demonstration, in Sanaa, Yemen, on 15 October. Samuel Aranda

TsunamiOn 11 March, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck 70 kilometers off the Tōhoku coast, in northeastern Japan. The quake triggered a tsunami that swept inland, destroying buildings, crippling infrastructure, and resulting in the displacement of more than 340,000 people. Yasuyoshi Chiba

Scrum halfBlackrock College scrum-half Conor Crowley releases the ball after a ruck, during a Division 1A All-Ireland League rugby union match against Old Belvedere. Ray McManus

North KoreaA portrait of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, decorates a building in the country’s capital Pyongyang. Damir Sagolj

A mouthfulA young Wagenya girl catches fish using an age-old method, diving into rapids on the Congo River with a net, and holding her catch in her mouth. Johnny Haglund

Dakar Fashion WeekA model poses in front of a tailor’s stall in the center of Dakar, Senegal during the ninth edition of the Dakar Fashion Week. Vincent Boisot

ApashkaBifatima Dauletova, a mystic and shaman, performs a ritual cleansing in Kazakhstan. Pavel Prokopchik

Cliff-Climbing Polar Bear Attempting to Eat Seabird EggsA young male polar bear climbs on a cliff face above the ocean, attempting unsuccessfully to feed on eggs from the nests of Brünnich’s guillemots, in late July. Jenny E Ross

Child BridesEvery year, all over the world, millions of girls below the age of 18 undergo marriages initiated by their families. The tradition of child marriage spans continents, religion, and class. Stephanie Sinclair

Tsunami – Chieko Matsukawa is pictured holding up her daughter’s graduation certificate, which she salvaged from the ruins of their home in Higashimatsushima. On 11 March last year, a magnitude 9 earthquake triggered a tsunami that swept inland over an area of some 500 square kilometers leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Yasuyoshi Chiba

Mubarak Steps Down – Demonstrators on Tahrir Square, Cairo, react to a televised speech on 10 February, in which contrary to prior expectations, Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak said he would not give up power. Alex Majoli