The winning photos from the forty-eighth World Press Photo contest capture some of the most haunting, disturbing, (and sometimes beautiful) images from events throughout the year 2004. These photographs mostly bear witness to worlds of pain, abuse, suffering, and violence. Of course there are also moments of beauty, grace, courage and compassion. But all in all, this is difficult photography, and very important visual reportage.

The World Press Photo contest is one of the most highly-regarded venues for recognition of outstanding photojournalism throughout the world. For this year’s contest alone, 4,266 professional photographers from 123 countries entered 69,190 images. The jury gave prizes in 10 theme categories to 63 photographers of 24 nationalities from: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, People’s Republic of China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Puerto Rico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and the U.S.

An exhibition of the winning photos is currently traveling to over 85 locations around the world. A beautiful catalog with 197 photographs is available, as well.

Here are 20 of the award winners.