A Danish photojournalist’s image of a gay couple locked in a tender embrace won the prestigious World Press Photo award on Thursday, highlighting the plight of sexual minorities in Russia.
Danish photographer Mads Nissen shot his evocative winning picture of "Jon and Alex" in a bare room in Saint Petersburg, with only a brown curtain as a backdrop.
One of the men is lying down with his eyes closed as the other looks down at him tenderly, their hands locked together.
Russia's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community has come under increasing attacks in Russia, with the government earlier this year passing a controversial law banning transvestites and transsexuals from driving.
In 2013, President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning the so-called "propaganda" of gay relationships to minors, despite an outcry from rights groups, Western governments and celebrities including Madonna.
Nissen's winning shot is part of his larger project called "Homophobia in Russia" and also won first prize in the Contemporary Issues category.
“Today is a really really special day for me and the LGBTs in Russia,” Nissen wrote on Twitter following his win.
Speaking about Nissen's winning photograph, jury chairwoman Michelle McNally said "it is a historic time for the image… the winning image needs to be aesthetic, to have impact and have the potential to become iconic".
"This photo is aesthetically powerful, and it has humanity," said McNally, who is The New York Times' director of photography and assistant managing editor.
Nissen, a staff photographer at Politiken newspaper, told AFP one of the reasons he thought he had won was that "gay rights have become an indicator" of how human rights are perceived in general.
"These two, Jon and Alex, are open and they are activists, and when they allowed me to shoot them they knew what they were doing. What they want most of all is for their cause to get acknowledgement and attention. They are willing to fight for it. They also belong to a new generation of activists who won’t bow their heads," said Nissen.
More of Nissen's work can be seen on his website while the rest of the World Press Photo winners can be seen here.
World Press Photo winner Mads Nissen. Photo: Scanpix