“The legacy of any photographer is her or his ability to capture the moment, to record history. For me it is about showing the struggle and survival of the individual,” veteran AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus wrote in 2012. The Pulitzer winner was shot dead by an Afghan police officer this Friday, on the eve of the country’s presidential elections. She was 48.
Based in Geneva, the German photographer reported in numerous conflict zones for over two decades, including Bosnia, Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Pakistan. She was known for putting a human face on the conflicts she covered, which resulted in extremely moving and insightful images like these. She had been covering Afghanistan since 2002 along with her longtime colleague Kathy Gannon, who was shot in the same attack but is now in a stable condition. Gannon was one of the few Western reporters whom the Taliban allowed to work in Kabul when they were in power.
The women were attacked while covering an election-commission convoy in the eastern province of Khost, near the border with Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area. As they waited outside a government compound guarded by security forces, a police lieutenant walked up to their car, eyed the pair in the back seat, and then shouted “Allahu akbar!” (God is great) — before opening fire with an AK-47.
What is so frustrating about her death, besides the colossal loss of talent, is that in such circumstances it didn’t matter how experienced and cautious these two reporters were, for the attack came from within. As an old friend of Niedringhaus and photojournalist Moises Saman put it, “how can you prepare for the time when someone who is supposed to be protecting you turns on you? It’s impossible.”
A local police source told The Telegraph authorities believed the shooter, who was immediately arrested, attacked in an act of revenge for a US air strike that took place in January close to his hometown in Parwan province, killing several civilians. Other officers said the motive was unclear, but it certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise. Revenge for drone killings and resentment towards Westerners have become major implications of what is now America’s longest war.
While this has been considered a “largely peaceful landmark election”, it was a particularly bloody run-up for journalists. Last month Swedish radio reporter Nils Horner was shot dead while on his way to interview a surviver from a Taliban attack. His death was followed by the shooting of senior AFP journalist Sardar Ahmad, who was killed along with his wife and two children in what was considered one of the safest hotels in Kabul. His 2-year-old son was the only survivor, even though he was shot five times by Taliban militiamen.
“For me, covering conflict and war is the essence of journalism,” Niedringhaus wrote for the Spring 2012 issue of Nieman Reports, a publication of Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism. Conflict zone dangers never deterred her from going back (even though she also covered other events, including nine Olympic Games).
In fact, she knew the risks too well. According to the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), “in 1997, her foot was crushed and broken in three places by a police car while she was covering demonstrations in Belgrade, requiring three reconstructive operations”. The following year, in Kosovo, “Niedringhaus was blown out of a car by a grenade while caught in cross-fire. In 1999, in Albania, she was with a group of other journalists at the Albania-Kosovo border crossing when they were mistakenly bombed by NATO forces.” She won several awards for her pictures, including the IWMF Courage in Journalism Award in 2005 and the Pulitzer she shared with 10 other male colleagues for breaking news photography of the Iraq War.
Tributes from colleagues and friends have poured in from all over the world, who remembered her as someone with an “infectious laugh”, who “gave herself to the subjects of her lens, and gave her talents to the world”. The AP posted this tribute video that depicts her amazing journey as a photojournalist. Check out her last pictures here and here.