When I heard the news that AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus was killed in Afghanistan two days ago, I thought of one split second in her life. Niedringhaus made what I always thought was the most important image of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza in 2008-2009, above.
From the Jabaliya refugee camp. The sign in the foreground is for the “martyr” Ahed Qaddas, killed by the Israelis. The boy holding his head is Mohammed Kutkut. January 24. Two other boys in the class were also killed.
I was so moved by the storytelling and poetry of Niedringhaus’s photograph that I told Adam I just wanted to run it every day: It said more about civilian deaths than 100,000 human rights reports, more than anything we could write about the slaughter. It said more about Palestinian refugees than any of the innumerable texts on the matter.
That spring I wrote to Niedringhaus to ask her for an interview. I wanted to know how she’d made the shot, and more about the story.
She threw cold water on that idea in a hurry:
I think you need to stop using that image as the AP has the copyright and you just can’t use it without facing legal actions. As a result of that I can’t facilitate your work by being interviewed.
If everybody will just use our pictures for free we would not be able anymore to produce independent photo journalism. That might sound harsh, but in these times where everybody thinks they can take what they want, its impossible for us to just think you are ‘ borrowing’ the images.
I’m sure you will understand that.
with my best regards,
I wanted to write her back that I’ve had a lot of my work ripped off, it’s the nature of the business now, my income was then 0, and I just wanted to celebrate her work. But I sensed she would come right back at me fiercely, so I dropped it. How can you not respect such a straightforward answer?
I’m violating her request and publishing the picture now because it seems the best way to honor her. Niedringhaus had a big soul. It’s all in that photo. A lot of the photos I’ve seen of hers in the last few days display her storytelling about war’s horror, and some of her editors’ sentimentality too– but is there a better, starker picture of the face of war in all the world than this one? (And yes, this was her fate too.)
Here’s more about Niedringhaus, to fill in the picture. David Guttenfelder, an AP colleague, relates:
I honestly don’t think that the AP could have covered [the Iraq] war without her influence. Our entire staff was raised in her image. I’m sure that even now, when they go out the door with their cameras they ask themselves “What would Anja do?”..
Guttenfelder would not have been surprised by Niedringhaus’s response to me.
She really set the bar when it comes to no-nonsense integrity, ethics, even morality. She expected everyone around her to be as unshakable. If you had Anja’s respect, then that was saying something hugely important about you and your work.