October 7th, 2015

Victor Blue Documents Survivors of Kunduz Hospital Bombing

Front page of October 4 New York Times, with photo by Victor J. Blue. © The New York Times

Front page of October 4 New York Times, with photo by Victor J. Blue. © The New York Times

Victor J. Blue‘s image of a young patient who survived the US airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, appeared on the front page of The New York Times on October 4. Blue’s  interview with a man who survived the bombing was also reported in a follow-up story.

Blue happened to be working in Kabul, Afghanistan, on a story about the hospital run by Emergency, an Italian NGO, when patients started arriving from the Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Kunduz. In addition to his front-page image of an eight-year-old patient  being comforted by a nurse, he photographed her being carried into the hospital and being treated.

Blue, who has traveled to and photographed in Afghanistan many times in the last six years, had spent two weeks in Kabul documenting work at the Emergency hospital. Admissions at that hospital have increased dramatically since the Taliban has regained ground. Blue says, “The month before I arrived, [Emergency] set a new record for admissions. Every day between 10 and 20 new patients are admitted. The hospital is so busy, they have to set strict admission criteria, only treating penetrating trauma—war wounds from bullets, shells, or mines and IED’s. They take some stabbings too.”

We reached Blue while he was awaiting transport to Kunduz, and asked him about his images and reporting on the MSF hospital casualties.

PDN: Why were you in Kabul, and working at the hospital there?
VB: I came to produce a piece on the flood of civilian casualties this year, and on the hospital in Kabul, Emergency, run by the Italian NGO of the same name, that works to save folks hurt in the fighting here. I made pictures in the hospital on both of my last two trips to Afghanistan. It’s an incredible place. The staff there are really open and dedicated, they work extremely hard to save a lot of lives.

The hospital in Kabul actually draws in patients from a pretty wide catchment area, 7 provinces. Emergency runs a network of First Aid Posts around Afghanistan, 46 in all, which are situated in the districts and usually stabilize the wounded before transfer to Kabul, although plenty of folks come in by private taxi. The majority were from Ghazni province, where the fighting between the Taliban and the government has been really fierce.

PDN: When did you—and the staff of the hospital—learn they’d be seeing patients moved from the MSF hospital in Kunduz?
VB: About four days or so after the Taliban overran Kunduz, a few patients started to trickle in. Then, after the bombing [of the hospital in Kunduz], it was a lot—around 20 came in one day. You could tell they had been treated in the hospital in Kunduz, but were not healed enough to be sent home, and came [to Kabul] to continue treatment. On Saturday afternoon, the day of the US airstrike, the two families I photographed arrived in Kabul via Afghan helicopter from Kunduz. When they came in, I had a nurse ask [for me] if it was OK if I made some pictures, and the parents of both of the children agreed. The Emergency nurses worked to remove their soiled bandages and assess the wounds. The kids were pretty scared and upset, and the nurses were amazing with them—not just calming them, but asking them to be brave while they helped them.

PDN: How did you get in touch with The New York Times, and what did you send?
VB: I talked with the father of one of the children [evacuated from Kunduz], Najibullah, and then asked a staff member at Emergency to translate for me. I interviewed him and realized that his personal account was really powerful, he had survived the bombing with his son in a bunker. The same blast that put his son in the hospital killed two other sons of his.
I am in touch with friends that work as New York Times reporters when I am in Afghanistan, and my friend Joe Goldstein… is currently here reporting. We had already hung out, and were in regular contact about the situation in Kunduz and about another story of his I had been assigned to [cover]. I called him up and told him what I had and he sent a car over to pick me up. I hung out at the Times bureau while the Afghan reporters called Najibullah and asked him some follow-up questions to the interview I brought. Then I filed the pictures. It was a Saturday and International Picture Editor David Furst was off, so my friend Metro Editor Niko Koppel received them and passed them on to International Picture Editor Thom McGuire, who worked hard to get them in the paper. Najibullah’s account of surviving the airstrike ran the next day. It felt good to get his voice into such an important story.

PDN: Did MSF workers from Kunduz go to Kabul, too and what did they tell you?  
VB: The next day at the hospital, more patients from the MSF hospital as well as MSF staff arrived at Emergency. They were still grieving and in shock and made it clear they did not want to take questions from journalists. I continued to do my work, shooting patients and surgeries and following the nurses on their rounds, but gave the MSF folks a wide berth. Of course I wanted to talk to them and hear their stories, but I had to respect their wishes. It was a big moment of solidarity between them and Emergency, two organizations with similar missions but that work very differently, and I wasn’t going to get in the way of that.

July 24th, 2014

AP Photographer’s Killer Given Death Sentence in Kabul

Anja Niedringhaus in 2005. ©Associated Press/Peter Dejong

Anja Niedringhaus in 2005. ©Associated Press/Peter Dejong

The Afghan police officer charged with killing Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus and wounding veteran AP correspondent Kathy Gannon last April has been sentenced to death by a panel of judges in Kabul, the Associated Press has reported.

Niedringhaus and Gannon were traveling under the protection of Afghan forces with a convoy of election workers  near the border of Pakistan when the police officer approached them, yelled “Allahu Akbar” — God is Great — and opened fire on them with an AK-47 rifle.

The officer, identified in press reports as Naqibullah, was sentenced Tuesday. His defense attorney argued that he was “not a normal person,” according to the AP report, but judges dismissed that defense when Naqibullah was able to state his correct name, age and the day’s date. Under Afghan law, the verdict is subject to at least two stages of appeals.

AP Photographer Anja Niedringhaus Killed in Afghanistan

April 4th, 2014

AP Photographer Anja Niedringhaus Killed in Afghanistan

Anja Niedringhaus in 2005. ©Associated Press/Peter Dejong

Anja Niedringhaus in 2005. ©Associated Press/Peter Dejong

Associated Press staff photographer Anja Niedringhaus was shot and  killed while covering the run-up to elections in Afghanistan, the Associated Press announced this morning. Regional correspondent Kathy Gannon was injured in the same attack and is undergoing treatment at a hospital, the wire service said.

“[I]t appears they were targeted and attacked,” AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt said a statement.

AP says Niedringhaus and Gannon were shot by an Afghan police officer while traveling with a convoy of election workers who were delivering ballots in the town of Khost, near the border with Pakistan. The convoy was protected by Afghan soldiers and police, according to AP. Gannon and Niedringhaus were in their own car with a driver and another unidentified freelance journalist who witnessed the attack.

“As they were sitting in the car waiting for the convoy to move, a unit commander named Naqibullah walked up to the car, yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’ — God is Great — and opened fire on them in the back seat with his AK-47. He then surrendered to the other police and was arrested,” AP says in its report of the incident.

“Those of you who worked with Anja know what a life force she was: spirited, intrepid and fearless, with a raucous laugh that we will always remember,” Pruitt says in his statement about the attack.

Niedringhaus, who was 48, was based in Geneva. She joined AP in 2002, and had worked throughout the Middle East, as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She was among the team of eleven AP photographers who shared 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for coverage of Iraq.

November 30th, 2011

PDN Video Pick: Marco Grob’s Afghanistan Portraits

If you’ve read PDN‘s story on Marco Grob’s techniques for lighting and shooting portraits fast (see “How I Got That Shot: The 3-Minute Portrait” in our December issue) you may be curious to see Grob in action. This video shows Grob using his portable lighting set up and handheld Hassie to photograph survivors of landmines in Afghanistan.

Grob traveled to Afghanistan in February to document the work of the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and the Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan (MACCA). More than one million people in Afghanistan have been injured or affected by landmines and other unexploded ordinances left from decades of conflict. Grob documented the work MACCA and UNMAS are doing to clear the Afghan countryside of landmines and to educate the public about the risks these devices pose. Grob talked about his portraits with the UN News Center.

December 29th, 2010

TIME Mag Calls Mauricio Lima Wire Photog of the Year

Last week TIME magazine called Brazilian photographer Mauricio Lima “Wire Photographer of the Year.” This is the first year TIME has singled out a wire photographer for recognition.

A former sports photographer, the Sao Paulo-based Lima joined AFP ten years ago and has worked in Latin America and the Middle East, among other places.

According to TIME, Lima’s photos from Afghanistan stood out among “the millions of images” coming through the wires this year. It was Lima’s first trip to Afghanistan, during which time he spent a month embedded with Marines in Helmand Province, and another month working on his own while based in Kabul.

Lima told TIME that his goal in Afghanistan was “to document the lives of ordinary people in this extraordinary situation,” which he accomplished by creating “parallel stories, the ones behind the headlines.”

In a gallery of Lima’s images posted on TIME.com, TIME photo editor Phil Bicker commended Lima on his pastel color palette, which Bicker said was perfect for the “dry, dusty landscape and ancient culture” of Afghanistan. Lima noted that “capturing real colors and lights” in his images and using “very little post production” were keys to his work.

To read more about Lima’s work and see a gallery of his images visit:


December 9th, 2010

Emilio Morenatti Visits Joao Silva in Hospital

Joao Silva, The New York Times photographer who lost his legs to a land mine in Afghanistan, got a hospital visit on Sunday from a photojournalist who was also injured by an explosive device 17 months ago. AP photographer Emilio Morenatti, who lost his left foot and part of his left leg in Afghanistan in August 2009, visited Silva at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Sunday, the Times Lens Blog reports.

Morenatti, who is based in Spain, had just completed a month-long assignment in Haiti, his first time covering an international crisis since his injury.

After his visit with Silva, Morenatti told the Times, “Joao is stronger even than I was,” he said. “He will be — for sure — an example for all of us.”

Like Silva, Morenatti was treated at Walter Reed. According to Lens Blog, he and Santiago Lyon, the director of photography at AP, convinced the Times that the hospital, which regularly treats veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, was the best facility for Silva.

Morenatti said that, like Silva, he found the volume of supportive and encouraging emails encouraging. The message he took from Silva: “Try not to send mail right now, because I can’t read and answer all the mail I’m receiving.”

Related stories:

After Injury, AP’s Emilio Morenatti Is Again Covering Disaster

November 4th, 2010

Joao Silva Being Treated at Washington Army Hospital

Photo courtesy of Michael Kamber for The New York Times

Joao Silva, the New York Times contract photographer who was severely wounded when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan on October 23, has undergone “repeated operations” at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC , according to his long-time friend and former collaborator Greg Marinovich. Marinovich has reported that the South Africa-based Silva “lost the lower part of both legs” while embedded with a US infantry unit in Kandahar Province.  Silva, accompanied by his wife, Viv, was flown to Walter Reed on October 29 from the US military hospital at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Michele McNally, assistant managing editor for photography at The New York Times and David Furst, the paper’s international picture editor, visited Silva after he arrived at Walter Reed.  “He’s a very strong man,” McNally says of Silva. She tells PDN his spirits were good during the visit. When she offered him a drink of water, Silva said he would prefer a beer.

The fund that Marinovich established to collect donations for Silva and his family through the Web site www.storytaxi.com has so far raised over 4,000 Euros.  (The site is run by Hekaya Digital Storytelling, a non-profit organization.) Marinovich says he is also organizing a fundraising dinner and auction, and adds that Photoshelter has offered a dedicated web site for licensing Silva’s images which will be live soon can now be seen at joaosilva.photoshelter.com

Related Stories:
PDNOnline: Photographer Joao Silva Wounded in Afghanistan

PDNPulse: Fund Established for Injured Photog Joao Silva and Family