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Today the winners of the prestigious 55th annual World Press Photo competition were announced in Amsterdam, and Samuel Aranda from Spain received the prize for World Press Photo of the Year 2011.

The winning photograph shows a woman caring for a wounded relative, inside a mosque used as a field hospital by demonstrators against the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, during clashes in Sanaa, Yemen on October 15, 2011. Samuel Aranda was working in Yemen on assignment for The New York Times. He is represented by Corbis Images.

TIME photographer Yuri Kozyrev of Noor won first prize in the Spot News Singles category with his explosive picture of rebels leaping off a tank in Ras Lanuf, Libya.

A gallery of selected winners is above. You can see all the results here.

TIME salutes all of this year’s winners. Congratulations!

To see a multimedia about Jodi Bieber’s World Press Photo of the Year for TIME in 2011 click here.

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In recent years many contemporary photographers have focused their work on the rapid industrialization taking place in China. We’ve seen mega cities rise and industry boom along with the population. But, in a move away from the trend, Chinese photographer Zhang Xiao turned his attention to changes to China’s coastal areas. The work, currently on view at Hong Kong’s Blind Spot Gallery, records subtle and surreal moments of life by the sea. “These scenes are true reality, though they seem to be beyond our imagination,” Xiao says.

The photographer began the series in 2009 after quitting his job as at the Chongqing Morning Post in Chongqing city, China. He was drawn to the ocean, driven to snap his shutter when confronted with scenes of change. “The coastline is the frontier of China’s reform,” he says, “but also the first area of impact from external culture and the rapid economic development.”

Xiao’s attachment to the sea was not new: he was born in the coastal city of Yantai, which boasts about 25 miles of coastline. “It’s a pity that I seldom went to the seashore during my whole childhood,” he says, “but there’s always a strong affection towards the sea that remains in the bottom of my heart.”

He plans to continue working on the project until the end of this year, following his instinctual approach to picture making: wandering the beaches, looking for scenes of daily life to reveal something about modern life in China, capturing the people who are frolicking in the surf and looking for some kind of peace, lost in the beauty of the sea.

The series Coastline is on display at Hong Kong’s Blind Spot Gallery through March 10, 2012.

Zhang Xiao is a freelance photographer based in Shandong Province, China. He is represented by Troika Editions and you can see more of his work here.

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To shoot this week’s TIME cover story about animal friendships — which you can read here — photographer Catherine Ledner called on years of experience of hanging out with cute critters, including her work on two books of animal photography, Animal House and Glamour Dogs. But this shoot offered something new, even for the animal pro. Most of Ledner’s work involves pictures of singular animals, while TIME’s portfolio features animal pairs. “I had to make sure that the dogs that were coming were actually friends,” she says.

With that criterion in place, Ledner found that shooting pairs of animals was no more difficult than shooting them one at a time. Like human models, the animals brought their own personalities to the set and Ledner was able to capture the interplay of those forces. Also like human models, the animals brought entourages (a.k.a. trainers) who kept the stars focused on the task at hand—and who conveniently stepped aside when Ledner wanted to let her subjects off the leash, so to speak.

But unlike human models, the animal managed to make the group shots look effortless. “If you’re shooting a group of people, you have an agenda of who you want looking in the lens and who you don’t,” Ledner says. “To get everyone to look good at one time is harder than it is, I think, when you have a bunch of animals.”

Which is not to say that the photographer’s sessions with her animal models were all fun and games. Ledner—who owns three dogs, two cats and four rabbits, but does not frequently photograph her own pets—says that animal photography requires putting cuddliness aside. While people may get relaxed and happy with background music and a festive mood, quiet is important to help a dog (or a bird or a rabbit, as the case may be) maintain his concentration. Luckily, almost all of the animals that participated in TIME’s cover shoot were seasoned professionals. One dog named Billy had sat for Ledner twice in the past. The only non-professional at the session was the rabbit, who was, in fact, a real friend of Billy’s. “The rabbit was so docile. It would let the dog put its head smack dab on top of it. There was just total trust between these animals,” says Ledner. And the photographer was hardly upset about shooting an amateur model: “The bunny’s only six weeks old—and how can you be a pro bunny?”

Catherine Ledner is an American photographer based in California and author of two books: Animal House and Glamour Dogs. See more here.

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There were a lot of things that launched the environmental movement 40-some years ago—the pea-soup shroud of smog that used to hang over L.A., the sight of Ohio’s Cuyahoga River on fire. But nothing quite matched the power of the pictures beamed back to Earth by the Apollo astronauts on their way to the moon. We’d been seeing our home planet from low-Earth orbit for a number of years by then. What was always missing were human eyes that got far enough away so that the planet’s entire, 360-degree face fit into frame. Once we had that perspective, we saw our world anew: a tiny, fragile bauble in an infinity of blackness, something manifestly worth taking better care of.

Of all the pictures shot on all the moon trips, it was an image from the final one—Apollo 17—that made the greatest cultural impression. Dubbed ”Blue Marble,” the picture which mission records suggest was taken by lunar module pilot Jack Schmitt) shows Africa and the Middle East, largely unobscured by clouds, from a distance of 28,000 miles (45,000 km).

Now, NASA has recreated the picture, without getting any farther than 581 miles (931 km) away, thanks to the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Satellite (Suomi NPP), which orbits the planet pole-to-pole rather than east to west. The relatively low altitude (compared to the Apollos at least) would make a full planetary profile impossible, but the ship was able to capture different high-def swatches of the planet and knit them together
into a single image. To capture that shot for real, a spacecraft would have to be 7,918 miles (12,743 km) away. While the satellite has never journeyed nearly so far, it did do Apollo 17 one better, taking portrait-quality images of both Earthly hemispheres, including North America. Somewhere down there, too tiny to see, is an L.A. with relatively clear skies and a Cuyahoga River now largely free of filth—and entirely free of flame. Sometimes it just takes a good look at ourselves to make us behave a whole lot better.

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Each January, Los Angeles is effervescent with anticipation, as the world’s biggest stars gather to participate in a flurry of parties, dinners and events in the walk-up to the Golden Globes, marking the beginning of the awards season. This year was no exception.

TIME’s annual Oscars portfolio showcases each year’s best performers through a portfolio of striking portraits. Tears, giggles, pranks and emotions ran high, and loads of laughter pealed through the studio during this year’s shoot, which resulted in a series of images and short films photographed and directed by Sebastian Kim. It was our most ambitious Oscars shoot yet. We had just three days to photograph and film 12 world-class actors during their busiest time of the year.

George Clooney arrived early on set, but it didn’t take long for the actor to settle in and begin joking around and planning pranks with Michael Fassbender, who had recently been photographed by Kim for the February issue of Interview magazine. This previous experience of working together made for a great rapport between them. And it wasn’t the only happy reunion on set: Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer happily embraced upon seeing each other on our set, giving us a glimpse of the fun these two had while working together on The Help. Later, Adepero Oduye was brought to tears when introduced by Joel Stein, who was on hand to interview the actors, to Davis, one of her greatest heroes. “It was so unbelievably Hollywood and yet really real,” Stein says.

Kim says that the project was the most star-studded he’s photographed so far. “I was quite excited photographing Meryl Streep,” he says, noting that his girlfriend is a big fan of the actress’s, “so naturally I was quite nervous when I met her. Being nervous on set is not a good thing as it impedes your concentration, but I just kept thinking, ‘My gosh…I better a get a good shot of her and make my girlfriend happy!’”

But Kim needn’t have been nervous. Streep was running a bit late, having arrived from a previous shoot with MGM studios, where she was taking part in a project to photograph the greatest living actors of our time. She was immediately forgiven—and how could she not be? Streep is kind and gracious, possesses a rare elegance and professionalism that made the photo shoot feel like anything but work. In fact, this set the tone for all of our actors’ portraits, which also included sittings with Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Christopher Plummer, Michelle Williams, Rooney Mara, Jean Dujardin, as well as the adorable Uggie, the dog in The Artist.

It’s a rare pleasure to watch actors of this caliber play for the camera. Instead of characters, they play themselves, with a focus and passion that can only come from years of experience on set.

The performers’ interviews with Joel Stein can be viewed here.

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George Clooney discusses the best performance ever and the importance of Hawaiian shirts.

2011 performances: The Descendants and The Ides of March

Nominated: Best Actor for The Descendants

THE PERFORMERS SPEAK:


Jessica Chastain


George Clooney


Adepero Oduye


Viola Davis


Uggie


Michelle Williams


Brad Pitt


Rooney Mara


Christopher Plummer


Bérénice Bejo


Jean Dujardin


Octavia Spencer


Michael Fassbender


Highlights

 

To view TIME’s Oscars portfolio photo gallery, click here

To see more of TIME’s Oscar coverage, click here

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Michael Fassbender explains how physicality can define a character.

2011 Performances: Shame, A Dangerous Method, X-Men: First Class, Jane Eyre, Haywire

THE PERFORMERS SPEAK:


Jessica Chastain


George Clooney


Adepero Oduye


Viola Davis


Uggie


Michelle Williams


Brad Pitt


Rooney Mara


Christopher Plummer


Bérénice Bejo


Jean Dujardin


Octavia Spencer


Michael Fassbender


Highlights

 

To view TIME’s Oscars portfolio photo gallery, click here

To see more of TIME’s Oscar coverage, click here

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While photographer Anoek Steketee and writer Eefje Blankevoort traveled through Northern Iraq in 2006, researching a story on the Kurds and their efforts to create a united Kurdistan, they stumbled across a surreal scene amidst the daily reports of kidnappings and sectarian violence—an amusement park called Dream City, located on what was formerly a military base for Saddam Hussein. While outside the gates they may have been at war, inside the Disney-like park the pair saw Arabs and Americans, Christians and Muslims, Shiites and Sunnis peacefully rubbing shoulders while strolling around eating ice cream and popcorn, or waiting patiently in line for the bumper cars.

That visit spurred a four-year journey, documented in their series Dream City, through the world of carnies and Ferris wheels from Rwanda to Turkmenistan. The parks’ surreal fairy-tale settings, with perfectly manicured gardens in areas torn by genocide and ethnic clashes, showed the duo that the desire to escape from reality is a universal human need. Which was something America’s great creator of amusement parks, Walt Disney, based his empire on. “I don’t want the public to see the world they live in,” said Disney describing his parks, “I want them to feel they’re in another world.”

TIME‘s Alexander Ho spoke to Steketee about the project:

Did you ever encounter any sort of trouble from park security or local police? 

Most of the time, the management of the parks welcomed us. But there were some incidents. In Turkmenistan, the authorities are not so happy with western journalists. We went on a tourist visa to avoid any restrictions in our movements. After a few days working in the park we had to go with the security and hand over the material. Fortunately I was able to avoid giving it to them, but we were forced to stop photographing and were refused further access to the park. In Israel, it took me a few hours to convince the security that I was coming with all the equipment just to photograph amusement parks.

Are there plans to continue the project? Are there shows slated this year for Dream City to be exhibited—perhaps in America?

At the moment we are looking for the possibilities to bring it to the USA, and after that, to Colombia and the other places we visited for the project, like Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, China and Indonesia. Also, in cooperation with FOTODOK, an educational program is being developed which we would like to bring with along with the exhibition.

What projects do you have coming up? 

Our next project is, among others, about a popular radio soap opera in Rwanda, which is a sort of Romeo and Juliet story situated in two villages in the countryside.

Dream City is published by Kehrer Verlag. More of Steketee’s work can be seen on her website at: www.anoeksteketee.com.

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Syria is a country with two clashing armies. On one side is President Bashar Assad and his more than 200,000 men, tanks, mortars and weapons from Russia. Opposing them is a phenomenon called the Free Syrian Army, a loose franchise of lightly armed military defectors and, in some areas, civilians, who are waging a growing number of guerrilla campaigns in their hometowns and cities. The FSA fighters count on weapons that enter clandestinely from Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Every Syrian man who flees across the border is “FSA in waiting,” according to a human-rights activist in Jordan, where Kalashnikovs have been going for about $1,600. Most of the men go back into Syria as soon as they secure a weapon, he says.

Back in their homeland, they face a regime that is out to annihilate all who oppose it. Photographer Alessio Romenzi was among the enemies of the Assad government, with fighters of the Free Syrian Army and people of Bab Amr, a rebellious district in the besieged city of Homs. On assignment for TIME, he took shelter with locals in a basement of a home in Bab Amr. There, no one dares to step outside or even venture upstairs for fear of government shells crashing onto them. Bodies have been dragged into homes from the streets so they will not rot out in the open. It is too dangerous to hold funerals. Romenzi counted 25 civilian fatalities in just two hours of bombardment in the area. As he wrote in an e-mail, “The word ‘safe’ is not in our dictionary these days.”

Romenzi is a freelance photographer based in Italy. You can see more of his work here.

Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME. Follow her on Twitter at @raniaab.

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When British painter Lucian Freud died in July 2011, TIME’s art critic Richard Lacayo wrote that Freud “proved with a bang the continuing vitality of the figurative tradition in art.” A prodigious realist painter, who many considered one of the greatest British artists of his generation, Freud began his career using sharp, tight lines. In the 1950s, he set aside his thin brushes for thicker, hog’s-bristle brushes that Lacayo wrote “pushed pigment across the canvas in rich, thick flourishes.”

Freud painted dozens of nudes and loved subjects with copious amounts of flesh. He took long periods to complete portraits and required his subjects to commit incredible amounts of time to the process. In 2007, the Telegraph chronicled Freud’s painting of art handler Rita Kirby, a process that took 16 months and required Kirby to pose for him seven nights a week on top of her day job.

A new exhibition at London’s Pallant House Gallery features photographs by David Dawson, who was Freud’s model and studio assistant for 20 years. The show features some of Freud’s key paintings alongside Dawson’s photographs of the artist at work in his studio. In addition to photographs of the painting process, Dawson captured intimate moments of Freud’s life, including the application of shaving cream with one of his large brushes and cuddling Kate Moss in bed.

What emerges is a portrait of an artist who took painstaking care to capture intimate details in his paintings where the point of completion was different for each one. “Freud’s criterion is that he feels he’s finished when he gets the impression he’s working on somebody else’s painting,” Martin Gayford wrote in the Telegraph in 2007. Freud often looked inward. His 2005 self-portrait—one of many he did in his lifetime—is one of his most recognized paintings. But perhaps the most complete portrait of Freud will emerge after his death in pictures from Dawson’s lens, instead of the artist’s brush.

David Dawson: Working with Lucian Freud is on view at the Pallant House Gallery through May 20. An exhibition of photographs by David Dawson will be available for sale at Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert through March 2.

Nate Rawlings is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @naterawlings

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