Award-winning photo 'sparked discussion'

2011-03-07 08:02

Johannesburg - When South African photographer Jodi Bieber found out she won the 2010 World Press Photo of the Year last month, she shrieked.

"You joking!" she yelled on the phone. "Ha! I cannot believe it."

Having won eight previous World Press Photo awards, Bieber said the shock wasn't just that she had won, it was that the jury had chosen this particular photo, a picture which after taking she was sure had failed.

Unlike most award-winning news photos which capture action, her photograph - a planned portrait - fell outside of traditional photojournalism, and outside of what she thought Time magazine would want, she told the Associated Press on Sunday.

The image, published on the cover of an August issue of Time, featured a beautiful 18-year-old Afghan woman whose Taliban husband had sliced off her ears and nose while his brother pinned her to the ground. The Taliban fighters said they would make Bibi Aisha, who had run away from her husband after abuse from her in-laws, an example for the rest of the village women.

The World Press Photo jury chose the photograph from 108 059 submissions.

Portrait or photojournalism

"If you speak to some people in our field, they will say how can a portrait win the competition?" she said. "A portrait is not photojournalism. Some people believe in the purity of it - you the fly on the wall, you don't change anything."

The choice of Bieber's non-traditional photo reflected the changing field of photojournalism, a field where the rise of camera phones means that just recording a moment is no longer enough, she said, referencing the World Press jury's special mention to a series of photographs shot by one of the Chilean miners trapped underground. Photographers need to bring something personal to the photo, she told more than 100 people in a discussion in Johannesburg on Saturday.

The 44-year-old photographer said that for her, the personal element in Aisha's portrait was its defiance of stereotypes. Bieber said traditional photographers would have framed Aisha as a victim of violence, for example exposing both her cut-off ears and nose. Instead, Bieber referenced Steve McCurry's 1985 National Geographic portrait of a beautiful Afghan woman and asked her to look directly into the camera, with strength.

"Why must we show her as this meek, weak woman?" she said. "If I had photographed her in the other way, in a more vulnerable way - we avoid it. We move and we turn the page. But here, we see a young girl, who's very attractive and her eyes give something of her internal power, and then we see what's happened to her, so we can identify with her."

She said that when she started photographing Aisha at the shelter, she snapped a few shots but could feel something was off.

'She was really beautiful'

"It's a bit embarrassing, but I put the camera down and I suppose I noticed she was really beautiful," Bieber recalled. "I said I could never understand what it feels like to be pinned down and how she must feel, but at the same time I wanted to show her with her power and show her thinking of something beautiful, something good."

After that conversation, the room went light, Bieber said. "And that's what that look is. I think for that moment she took away what happened to her and gave us her inner power, her inner strength."

Bieber's emphasis on Aisha' striking beauty led some critics to say Bieber had objectified her, while others called the photo war pornography. The controversial headline accompanying the photo in Time, which read "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan," led critics to say Bieber had exploited Aisha as war propaganda, she said.

Bieber, who said she hadn't seen the magazine's teaser until after it was published, said despite the criticism, her photo sparked a discussion of violence against women and on America's involvement in Afghanistan. "And if a photograph can create a massive discussion, then that's brilliant," she said.

  • purpleprimula1 - 2011-03-07 08:14

    This level of violence is simply unbelievable! Irrespective of what they cut off - she's still beautiful! Glad Bieber won.

      serialong - 2011-03-07 08:57


      Louis - 2011-03-07 10:16

      Agree 100%. Her beauty is beyond the physical damage that was done. Bieber saw that within the young woman..

      nathang247 - 2011-03-07 10:22

      Agreed. Don't know how this level of violence against woman can be deemed "legal" in these countries.

  • tigertank - 2011-03-07 08:44

    This (photo) is what happens in Islam.

      Maestro - 2011-03-07 09:12

      Hi are wrong. Islam is a beautiful religion. Do some research on our religion. This is a totally horrific incident that no Muslim would condone. These people who allowed this shoudl beg for forgiveness to Allah (God). Women in Islam have many rights, one of them are not to be abused. It is sickening to think that you generalise like this. This is not about religion, but as you made it to be, please read the Bible CORRECTLY as I too believe in the Bible. Contact me for details on marraige classes that are offered for Muslims. You can learn so much more about our beautiful religion....

      Andrew - 2011-03-07 09:14

      @Tigertank....This is NOT Islam and the Taliban is an a extreme perversion, however, Isamic law is abused all over the world by muslim men to undervalue and diminish women and women's rights.

      Sizwe - 2011-03-07 11:36

      And I guess soddomy is what happens in the Christian world -courteousy of Catholic bishops and priests??

      Susannomore - 2011-03-07 11:43

      I don't think that is fair. Us Christians are just as bad, and do similar and worse things.

      giantplums - 2011-03-07 12:04

      I agree Susannomore - the Christian religion has been similarly defaced by radical groups and very little comment comes from the Chrisitan community. As Siswe says the catholic church has been very silent on the abhorrent behaviour of many of their priests - wot about those christian fundamentalist groups that have locked themselves away in communes and abused the women and young girls - and then gets them all to commit suicide when it looks like they have reached the end of their reign. There are many examples. You get lots of noise from the authorities - but little from the church itself.

  • shawnbrownphoto - 2011-03-07 09:23

    Have a look at the movie - 'The stoning of Soraya M'. Based on a true story. Abuse of women in the name of religion is disgusting and unfortunately its happening all over the world as we speak. Say no to these heartless loveless acts in the name of God. Be it Allah, Jehovah, El-Shaddai that you serve - which are all names of God spoken differently, the crux is that He is a loving God, not one that promotes violence. If your religion promotes abuse and violence, take another look at the answers you think you have

  • theStained - 2011-03-07 09:30

    Very Mc Curry but very effective...congrats

  • princess.arlene - 2011-03-07 09:34

    I beg to differ with anyone who thinks Islam is a kind and gentle religion, and that it's only 'some' men who abuse their womenkind.When a girl is raped, she's put to death (drowned,garrotted,stabbed,strangled, suffocated, stoned) because she was 'too enticing'(at 8 years of age??). The men MIGHT get 80 lashes, and languish in prison until Ramadan after which all 'honour' murderers are released. Islam the most non-compassionate box of crap that ever hit earth. My ankles were whipped for 'indecent exposure' in Riyadh (I was 60 at the time) and as part of the orientation at work, we were given emergency numbers for WHEN YOU ARE ARRESTED, not IF you are arrested. Islam is a bath of blood.

  • Brad - 2011-03-07 09:52

    @Tigertank, I am not Islamic. In fact, I am agnostic, having studied all kinds of religions all over the show - from Wicca to Buddhism. No self-respecting Muslim would condone what happened to this woman, in my experience. In fact, most religions would greatly forbid it. Once again, however, we are confronted by a particular group of extremists who take the "law" into their own hands. Their actions would certainly be condemned by their Maker. Unfortunately religious extremism exists in most of the dominant religions - Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Unfortunately, large groups of extremists exist in whole Islamic communities, so I do understand why you perceive the "Bieber" story as "what happens in Islam". However, the "Bieber" story merely highlights what occurs in extremist communities. The cause for concern, however, is how these major religions can start to control (or, rather, "positively influence") the view of their extremists. I somehow believe that they would rather not face this issue at all (i.e. just turn a blind eye) of the reasons I remain agnostic.

  • Darwinian - 2011-03-07 09:57

    Religion started to discriminate against woman thousands of years ago....

  • Andy - 2011-03-07 10:04

    Check on YOU TUBE - woman or men who have converted to Christianity. I have never seen more powerful and overwhelming testimonies of the freedom and the love they find in Jesus. In all the testimonies the common phrases are they were tired of being told to hate and kill unbelievers, where as Jesus tells them they should love and pray for their enemies. They also find freedom from doing useless daily man made rituals and find grace and love in a relationship with talking to a loving God when- ever they want to where ever they are. And as Jesus said - it is not the food you take in that makes you unclean - it is what comes out of your mouth that makes you unclean eg cursing, hate talk, wishing for death and destruction on people.

  • Hunter 008 - 2011-03-07 10:08

    This is Islam !!! I spent a year in Sudan...women are treated like slaves..Men sit in the shade drinking tea all day, while the women do all the hard labour (Digging trenches..brick laying and farming )!! If a woman gets raped, criminal charges are usually reversed and she is charged for adultry...Women get beaten or stoned to death for their crimes !!

  • mtbj820 - 2011-03-07 10:52

    The Taliban did not do this. Of course, the West would like you to think so. Read the articles properly. Google/ Wiki it. The Taliban issued a statement condemning the act. I challenge you to try and find the full statement on the web. It's there, held where it's hard to get at. What about the 9 boys killed in Afghanistan collecting firewood in the last week? How many of you heard about this? Is that 'okay', better than cutting her nose off? What about their mothers, Ayesha, Fathima, Mariam, Hasina etc? What would they give to get their sons back? Open your eyes South Africans! Don't become like the Americans! (i.e. gullibility nationally personified)

  • Idled - 2011-03-07 11:04

    Abuse happens everywhere. Daily. To our men, woman and children. Don't just knock a country. Knock humanity. Next time you fight with someone in front of your children, think of this. Everything has a starting point.

  • 360Jason - 2011-03-07 11:08

    Great photo. The image captured me and I could not look away. The eyes are the seats of our soul and she captured that inner strength and power. Just proves that beauty is not skin deep. Sad that National Geographic had to exploit it as war propaganda. This beats the 1985 cover.

  • wesley333 - 2011-03-07 11:39

    With respect, most cases of women abuse(those that I have heard of) happen in the islamic states. There has to be some truth behind islam being the motivating factor. But, like with any religion, alot can be misintepreted from the holy books, mostly to suit oneself. Further, religion is often mixed with culture, perhaps it is the culture of people in those places that drive their sick twisted actions, that are hidden behind religion. I surely have'nt heard of this kind of "islamic" abuse here in SA, or even other, first world countries, that islam has reached.

      mtbj820 - 2011-03-07 15:53

      Good point and observations there Wesley. However consider what you said: "I have heard". From whom, when, how? It's the role of the media to serve the interest of its masters. Nevertheless, as you yourself point out, just a little reason and logic expose the truth.

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