American photojournalist Paula Bronstein first photographed Afghanistan while on assignment for Getty Images in 2001, after the so-called war on terror was launched. Ever since then, Paula has regularly revisited the country to photograph the daily effects of war on Afghan civilians. Her image, which won the World Press Photo Daily Life Singles category, depicts ‘The Silent Victims of a Forgotten War’ who rarely make headlines.
Paula pitched ‘The Silent Victims of a Forgotten War’ series to The Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting to shed light on Afghanistan’s war wounded. “The point of this was to highlight silent victims who don’t have any voice because no-one knows who they are,’ she recalls. “I felt very strongly that I could highlight these people, their stories and something about them that touched people’s hearts. That’s what we try do a lot in photojournalism, which is a kind of humanitarian work.”
Paula spent a month photographing in the emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. In her award-winning image two-year-old Shabir is held by his aunt Najiba as his mother is burying his sister, who was killed in a bomb blast. The composition creates an almost biblical scene. “I knew that the way the light would come into certain parts of the hospital in the late afternoon, especially in the women and children’s ward, would create a whole other mood,” says Paula. “This is added to because of the way she’s holding the baby, his angelic face and his little hand peeking out.”
She continues: “I actually waited until the mother and the father came so I could meet them and give them my condolences – this was a terrible time for them. They have no idea that this photo won this award and I don’t have any way to explain it in a way that would make sense to them. You probably hear this from other photographers who shoot horrific things – how do the subjects of the photograph actually relate to photographic awards?”
Although Paula originally submitted the photo in the Contemporary Issues category, she was not surprised to see World Press Photo had awarded the image in the Daily Life category. “As far as daily life goes, in Afghanistan this is absolutely part of it.”
March 29, 2016, Kabul, Afghanistan – Najiba holds her nephew Shabir, who was injured in a bomb blast that killed his sister. The bomb exploded in a relatively peaceful part of Kabul while Shabir’s mother was walking the children to school. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
© Paula Bronstein