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The Challenging Words of Patrick Brown: In response to receiving a First Prize in the general news singles category World Press Photo April 24, 2018

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : Metaphor Online, Patrick Brown, World Press Awards, World Press Photo , trackback

Photo Patrick Brown

I’d like to thank the World Press Photo for this tremendous honour a 1st prize in the general news single category. I’d like to salute my fellow nominees; whose work is a testimony to their dedication to the craft of storytelling, I’m very proud to be sharing the bench with them tonight. Ivor PrickettAdam Ferguson, Toby Melville and huge congratulations to Ronaldo Schemidt.

Thank you also to my editors at UNICEF - Christine Nesbitt Hills and Jean-jacques Simon - for trusting me to follow my journalistic instincts; without the access that UNICEF gave me this photograph, and many others I took in Bangladesh, would not exist.

When I was told that this picture had been nominated for the Photo of the Year I wont lie to you I found it very challenging. I submitted this image as part of a body of work and didn’t expect it to be selected individually. The possibility of receiving an accolade for an image of dead children didn’t sit well with me. To reconcile this, I’d like to tell you about the context of this photograph and how it was taken.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called the crackdown in Rakhine State, Burma, “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. There is nothing clean about Ethnic cleansing – up close and on the ground, it’s murder, it’s rape, it’s people being slaughtered in the most systematic and barbaric way. It’s people – like the ones in this photograph. While euphemisms and diplomatic language can obscure the true horror inflicted by oppressive regimes, photography cuts through all the cold clinical terminology. Through photographs we’re forced to confront the cruel reality of what ethnic cleansing really looks like.

I was in Bangladesh on the 28th of September when I received a phone call from a colleague, telling me that a boat carrying Rohingya refugees from Burma had capsized. It was early evening but the sky was already black due to a massive thunderstorm rolling in off the Bay of Bengal. The fury of the storm was like nothing I’d experienced before and all I could think of, if you’re willing to take on the Bay of Bengal in monsoon season, what you’re running from must be truly horrific.

In this case, 15 people drowned. When I arrived at the scene, there were cars blocking the road, there were police, local and international press, and the fisherman who had helped carry the bodies up to the coast road. Amid this chaos, I looked at the bodies lit by car headlights and noticed how the rain had gently molded the fabric that covered them to the point you could make out their individual features. The resulting photograph captures a moment of stillness, which is ultimately a photograph of ethnic cleansing.

This image SHOULD upset you. It’s not the photograph itself that’s horrific; it’s what it illustrates. These children have names, a mother, a father, brothers and sisters, grandparents… They fled their home in fear, braving the Bay of Bengal in the middle of a monsoon storm. The day after this picture was taken, I photographed survivors burying them in a mass grave. Tragically, they’re just a small part of a much, much bigger story.

I’ve worked in Asia for nearly 20 years and have spent a large portion of that time documenting the conflict between the government of Burma and its ethnic minorities – not just the Rohingya, but also the Kachin, Kayin, Shan and others. They all have horror stories of war and persecution. In northern Shan and Kachin states today, there’s a full-scale war, with roughly 100,000 people displaced by fighting and the Burmese military has denied access to humanitarian organizations. This type of persecution and the attempt to prevent the story from being told is nothing new in Burma.

What’s new is the sheer scale of the crackdown in Rakhine State – its comparable to what took place in Rwanda or the Bosnian civil war. In a story this big, I believe my role as a photographer is to bear witness and to try and show the reality – no matter how gruesome, or sad, or how upsetting it may be.

By honouring all the photographers in the room tonight for their commitment to transformative storytelling, the World Press Photo helps us as photographers to draw worldwide attention to the often very tragic subjects that we document. For this, I am truly grateful.

World Press, thank you for this incredible honour.

 

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