'Untraditional' photo wins Bieber award

2011-02-11 16:03

Cape Town – Although she has previously won eight category awards at the World Press Photo competition, winning the main award still came as a surprise for South African photographer Jodi Bieber on Friday.

Bieber took top honours for her powerful portrait of Bibi Aisha, a young Afghan woman whose ears and nose had been cut off by her abusive husband after she had left him.

"I didn't feel confident," Bieber told News24, pointing out that the picture which graced the cover of the August 9 2010 issue of Time magazine was not only facing tough competition, but also because it was not a "traditional" one.

"Women in situations like that are almost always portrayed as vulnerable. In this one Aisha is looking quite defiant," said the photographer.

A sentiment expressed by the competition's judges.

"It's an incredibly strong image. It sends out an enormously powerful message to the world, about the 50% of the population that are women, so many of whom still live in miserable conditions, suffering violence. It is strong because the woman looks so dignified, iconic," Ruth Eichhorn, one of the competition's judges, told Reuters.

'Inner power'

Bieber who had been commissioned by Time to take photographs of a "whole variety" of Afghan women (including "the Oprah of Afghanistan") attributed the relative ease with which she was able to connect with Aisha to her experience working with South African women in difficult situations.

"It was like two girls having a chat," Bieber said of some moments she and Aisha had a conversation during the photo shoot.

" 'You are so beautiful, and this is what I want to capture. Your power, your inner power'," Bieber told Aisha through an interpreter.

But while the picture has come to represent the fight for women's rights in Afghanistan, at times the response wasn't always good.

The photograph (and the story), which was accompanied by the headline "What happens if we leave Afghanistan" came under fire from some sections of society who perceived it as the exploitation of Aisha's situation to advance the case for the presence of US forces in Afghanistan.

But for Bieber, it went beyond the politics of war: "To talk (about this) is very easy for someone who is sitting in an armchair, who hasn't had their ears and nose cut off."

Proudly South African

According to Bieber, at the time the photograph was taken Aisha had been waiting for her visa to be approved so she could leave the Kabul shelter she was living in and head for the US where she believed she could be safe from her family and where she had an infinitely better chance at reconstructing her brutalised face.

And the attention that followed seems to have helped her plight.  

Late last year Aisha started receiving free constructive surgery from the Grossman Burn Foundation in California and now has a new nose.

"I feel fantastic, I feel very, very happy. I feel very proud as a South African," Bieber  told News24.

  • Terence - 2011-02-11 16:46

    Well done and congratulations. At last a South African getting the accolades for the right reasons

      Grant - 2011-02-11 17:08


  • detect - 2011-02-11 17:17

    A wonderful achievement - well done, Jodi.

  • nomkhosi.mdlalose7 - 2011-02-11 18:19

    The pic is very strange but as long as the photographer is proudly South african, I congratulate her.

      suspiciousme - 2011-02-11 19:40

      "The pic is very strange" What? Do you think Bieber "ohoto-shopped" it" You don't get it, do you? It is not a 'strange" picture. It tells a story that cannot possibly be put into the right words… Congratulations to BIeber for winning the award and to Bibi Aisha for having the courage to have her story and probably the story of millions of other women told in this way.

      Susannomore - 2011-02-12 10:03

      Nothing strange about it, it is just that you are not used to seeing people with no noses. Do a search and you will see that this is a well docmented humanitarian case.

  • Jakkals911 - 2011-02-12 00:14

    Absolutely brilliant picture that portrays the suffering women often have to endure from abusive men who tend to forget that it is women who brought them into the world and who are now subjected to a living hell from their husbands and sons... Well done, Jodi! I'm proud of you!

  • Daniel - 2011-02-12 10:51

    Wow, Justin and Jodi - two talented siblings in the same family.

  • Cuttingtorch - 2011-02-12 15:50

    A very different one from the one by Steve McCurry.Well done.

  • Ivor Markman - 2014-10-30 14:36

    Well done, Jodi. Proud of you.

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