Anja Niedringhaus was a masterful war photographer until war took her away. One of the most renowned professionals in the world of war photojournalism, she was a woman in a world primarily inhabited by men. But that didn’t shake her. Anja received a number of awards for her work, and in 2005 she became the first German woman to win the Pulitzer, a journalism honor that awarded her haunting coverage of the war in Iraq. For 25 years she covered conflicts around the world, offering an alternative view of the battlefield, the human side of the war. A war that took her away three years ago, when she was killed at the age of 48 while covering Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential election, refraining the world of her marvelous talent and humanity.
I discovered Anja’s work not long ago, when I was looking for big war photojournalists’ names for an assignment. I have always admired war correspondents, and I have considered it a choice of career for several times. But when a professor asked me who where my role models in this profession, I realized I didn’t know any name behind the photographs. And as my research when on and on, only male photojournalists would come up. And then, somehow, I stumbled upon Anja’s work. The emotions that surpassed from those images stroke me harder than I expected. They had a sense of being in the right place at the right time; they captured war in all its humanity, and also dehumanization. In her photographs there’s more than just combatants and victims, there’s real people, people that suffer, people that comes to terms with the outcome of war. And not only that, it is a shout-out to life, to happiness, to dignity. “We are not victims” they seem to shout. Because she portrays them as heroes, people who stand up after a disaster, survivors.
Anja’s photography is as straightforward as she was. Independent, brave, down-to-earth. Familiar. She had seen more violence than most people, yet in her photographs, as documentary photographer Kael Alford writes in an article titled “Remembering Anja Niedringhaus“, violence was not the main theme: after a bombing attack, a man in a suit strides away from the scene with chin raised and an expression of grim determination as he grips the hands of two terrified children, willing them forward from the smoldering carnage. In a photograph of a suicide bomber’s bloody body, he still looks like a man. On the helmet of a soldier amid a sea of soldiers is scrawled a love poem. On a bus crowded with nervous Afghan schoolgirls, one girl is set apart in the composition because her expression reveals her fragility and her strength.
Anja hated being called a war photographer, because she didn’t photograph war.
“When you say ‘war photographer’ the first image that comes to mind is someone crazy for the bang bang. Not Anja. She was an artist. She used her sensitivity and sense of understanding to access the human side of war.”
Moises Saman, photojournalist
“I’m sure that when they [photojournalists] go out the door with their cameras they ask themselves “What would Anja do?” I think maybe every AP photographer has asked themselves that at one point”
David Guttenfelder, Anja’s friend and colleague
Anja Niedringhaus has become a role model to photojournalists around the world, empowering aspiring female journalists as myself and proving that gender does not define one’s future.
Author: Sandra Sotillo (@ssotillocosta)