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Does The 2011 'Photo Of The Year' Look Familiar?

Each year, some of the best and brightest in news photography gather in Amsterdam to decide on the year's most iconic and important images. It's called the World Press Photo awards.

The photo deemed the best of 2011 was taken by Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda while on assignment for The New York Times in Yemen. That one, and winners of other categories, were announced this week.

Unlike the familiar scenes of riots and violence that poured out of the Middle East last year, Aranda's image is one of tender repose. A veiled woman holds 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," the World Press caption reads, on Oct. 15.

The composition alone is immediately striking. Whether intentional or inadvertent, the image bears an uncanny resemblance to Michelangelo's iconic (and religious) Pieta. Along those lines, The New York Times describes it as having "the mood of a Renaissance painting."

"In the Western media, we seldom see veiled women in this way, at such an intimate moment," contest judge Nina Berman is quoted as saying by World Press Photo. "It is as if all of the events of the Arab Spring resulted in this single moment — in moments like this."

The World Press Photo awards have been around since the '50s, and you might recognize some of the past recipients of the "photo of the year" award.

Like Malcolm W. Browne's 1963 photo of the Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in protest. Or Eddie Adams' harrowing 1968 image of an execution in South Vietnam. Or Charlie Cole's 1989 image of the Tienanmen Square demonstrator.

Last year, the award went to Jodi Bieber for a portrait of an Afghan teenager, Bibi Aisha, who was disfigured for fleeing her husband.

The winning images are almost invariably scenes of violence, vice, death or destruction. This year is no exception, but the tone is slightly different — a bit more subtle.

What was the most iconic news photo you saw in 2011?

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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