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Sierra Leone News: Pulitzer Prize winning Reuters photojournalist Yannis Behrakis has died aged 58

One of the world’s most acclaimed photojournalists who produced celebrated images of war zones and disasters for 30 years has died aged 58. Yannis Behrakis was hailed by colleagues as “the best of his generation” and a hard-working “hurricane” who risked all to get the best picture. Yannis Behrakis’ self-portrait after he survived a deadly ambush by rebels in Sierra Leone in 2000. Behrakis covered many of the most tumultuous events around the world, including conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya, a huge earthquake in Kashmir and the Egyptian uprising of 2011. In 2016 he led a Reuters team that won the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the European migrant crisis. One of his favourite pictures came during that assignment – showing a Syrian refugee carrying his young daughter in his arms and kissing her during a storm. He said later, “This picture proves that there are superheroes after all. He doesn’t wear a red cape, but he has a black plastic cape made out of garbage bags. “For me this represents the universal father and the unconditional love of father to daughter. Behrakis was born in Athens in 1960 and was inspired to study photography by a Time-Life book of pictures. After a “stifling” job in a studio he began freelancing for the Reuters news agency in 1987 and two years later was sent on his first foreign assignment to Libya. His picture of Colonel Gaddafi – splashed on front pages around the world – showed a knack for being in the right place at the right time that would shine for the next three decades. He went on to cover violence and upheaval across Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The pictures he produced won awards and admiration among the tight-knit community of war correspondents, who noted his rare ability to find beauty amid chaos and for his courage to be at the heart of the action. He has said of his job, “My mission is to tell you the story and then you decide what you want to do. My mission is to make sure that nobody can say: ‘I didn’t know’.” In 2000, Behrakis and Reuters’ colleague Mark Chisholm narrowly survived a rebel ambush on a convoy in Sierra Leone. They crawled into the jungle until the gunmen left, but his Reuters colleague and close friend Kurt Schork was killed along with AP cameraman Miguel Gil Moren. The four reporters had got to know each other during the siege of Sarajevo in the mid-1990s and had become a “band of brothers”. Despite the trauma, Behrakis said his friend’s memory helped him return to photographing wars – which he called “the apotheosis of photojournalism”. Later he covered the Arab Spring uprisings in North Africa and bloody violence in his home city Athens amid the fallout of the financial crisis. He also got to cover the Athens Olympics, including the moment Paula Radcliffe tearfully retired from the marathon. Istanbul-based AP photographer Lefteris Pitarakis said: “Yannis was the best photojournalist of his generation … the sole reason I became one. “He cared deeply about the people he had the privilege to photograph in their most extreme situations. I was lucky to have him as my teacher and mentor.” Veteran Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic said of Behrakis’ style: “It is about clearly telling the story in the most artistic way possible. “You won’t see anyone so dedicated and so focused and who sacrificed everything to get the most important picture.”


Wednesday March 06, 2019.

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