“While the pandemic has turned the whole of society upside down and has emerged as the greatest event of this beginning of the century, there have been other crises,” warned Jean-François Leroy, director of the ‘Visa pour l’Image’ in May. He said it a few months before the departure of the United States troops from Afghanistan and the fall of the country into the hands of the Taliban, an event that has reminded a part of the planet, the one that lives outside the armed conflicts, which are still many. open wars and those that have left endless consequences.
From the long-running armed conflicts in Syria and Yemen, which number hundreds of thousands of dead and displaced, to the recent escalations in Ethiopia or Upper Karabakh, “photojournalists have always been there, providing invaluable reporting on these chapters of the history “, claims Leroy. Some works that have in the ‘Visa pour l’Image’, which is held these days in Perpignan (from August 28 to September 12), a faithful and reputed ally against the growing media disinterest in these conflicts.
The event pays tribute to coverage in Syria, on the tenth anniversary of the start of the war, with exhibitions by the Agence France Presse (AFP) team and a selection of 16 local photojournalists. It also delves into up to three galleries in Ethiopia and, in particular, in the civil war unleashed in the Tigray region, which has caused the flight of more than two million people and has condemned 90% of the population to famine.
But the main role of this edition has been taken by an anonymous photographer. He is the photojournalist covering the protests against the coup in Myanmar – the former Burma – for the US newspaper The New York Times. According to himself, he has had to do it so far without making his name public for fear of reprisals. For him it was the Visa d’Or News Award.
The enigmatic reporter, raised in Yangon, has for years portrayed the country’s social conflicts, including the crisis with the Rohingya, for The New York Times. But since the Army took over the country, on February 1, it has experienced a real ordeal to document the mobilizations. So far there have been more than 800 deaths and 4,000 detainees among the protesters, to which are added 70 journalists arrested.
“On the ground, we had to stop wearing helmets inscribed with press when we realized that the soldiers were targeting the photographers, “says this professional. Since February, he says, he has not only tried to report on the situation, but has also had to escape from the forces of order.” Hiding on different floors with the help of citizens, and moving from place to place at dusk to avoid police searches at night and arrests, “he has written for the ‘Visa’.
He even explains an episode, on March 31, in which the military tried to arrest him when he got to his car, but he was able to escape. “They targeted me and other reporters who were in the car. To my surprise, I managed to accelerate and get out of there before they could shoot,” says the award-winning photographer.
Local photojournalists in Syria and Gaza
As in Myanmar, exhibits devoted to most conflicts show the critical importance of local photojournalists and the risk they take in portraying the wars that surround them.
In the case of the Gaza Strip, in Palestine, the young reporter Fatima Shbair, 24, portrays A life under siege. “The Gaza war of 2021 was the most difficult experience. It was the first war that I covered for so long; eleven days non-stop, and worried about my family living in the north. I had to find a balance between work and family,” relates.
Shbair captures not only the scenes of the escalation of Israeli bombing on the strip, but also the day-to-day life in the “open-air jail” that he says is Gaza. “Dozens of people die every day simply because they cannot leave Gaza for treatment, and peasants and residents are a constant target along the Israeli border.”
The two exhibitions dedicated to Syria also have something of a tribute to the dozens of local citizens who, with more or less experience, decided to take a camera to convey the suffering of their people to the world, with half a million deaths since the Arab Spring in the country it became a very long civil war. On the one hand, there is the gallery Ten years of conflict as seen by 16 Syrian photographers, who have contributed their own selection. And, from the other, Syria: a decade of war, produced from around thirty photojournalists from the Agence France Press (AFP). Many of them are also young Syrians.
“Many had never worked as journalists before the war and had only taken a camera as a way of asking for help. Many photos convey the shock that the person behind the viewer lives, “writes Jean-Marc Mojon, head of the agency’s offices in Syria and Lebanon, which abounds:” Injured children look directly at the camera as if they know who the photographer is, perhaps a neighbor or even a family member. The rubble piles are not anonymous ruins, but could be the homes of friends and family. ”
From Ethiopia to Nagorno-Karabakh
One of the conflicts that occupy the most space in the Visa por l’Image of this 2021 is also one of the most unknown, perhaps like all those that occur in Africa. The one from the Ethiopian region of Tigray. In November 2020, the country’s government announced a military action against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (FLPT), which they accused of attacking military bases. And that led to a kind of civil war.
One of the exhibits is by Eduardo Soteras (Tigray: Ethiopia’s Cascade into Chaos), an Argentine photojournalist who studied at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and was the founder of the Ruido Photo collective. His journalistic work, and not only graphics, was crucial to uncover and tell the world about the bloody conflict that was taking place in the area and of which little was suspected, since the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, is a Nobel Prize winner from the Peace.
Soteras and an AFP team gained exclusive access to the region. “Evidence of civilian suffering was everywhere in Tigray. In Mai-Kadra city, the site of one of the largest massacres during the conflict, survivors are seen crying over corpses lying in ditches as they cover themselves. the face to avoid the stench “, they expose.
The other exhibition, Flee the war in Tigray, It is from the photojournalist of The Associated Press Nariman El-Mofty. She is mostly focused on the refugee crisis that follows the war. More than 60,000 people are estimated to have fled to neighboring Sudan, but the main problem is shortages. According to the UN, about two million people will fall into famine if action is not taken quickly.
Among the award-winning photographers in the contest, the French Antoine Agoudjian, a descendant of survivors of the Armenian genocide, also stands out. With work Armenians – A people in danger of extinction, for the magazine of Le Figaro, explains that he wanted to culminate with portraits of the present a whole trajectory of years dedicated to rescuing the stories of the genocide. For this he received the ICRC Humanitarian Visa d’Or Award.
As happened in 2020, the contest has avoided being marked by the COVID-19 epidemic, beyond the security measures for visitors, but this has not prevented them from including a couple of selections that refer to the global pandemic. One of them, on the health crisis in India. The other, a particular look at the impact of the coronavirus on the refugee crisis: Crisis upon crisis: refugees and the health crisis, in charge of the MYOP agency and with the support of the European Commission.