November 20, 2014

Atlanta Photojournalism's 1st Place Photo and the Afghan Girl

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My colleague, David Campbell, is fond of relating how much the power of an image often derives from its similarity to other familiar images. I experience this all the time and I know photographers do too, given how often the name of other photos spill out immediately as touch points and immediate descriptors of the picture at hand.

My latest experience of this came as I clicked over to see the 2014 winners of the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, the photo above leading the site. The first place winner in the Portrait/Personality category was taken by Altaf Qadri of the AP of a woman in India sitting in the offices of an NGO dedicated to stopping acid attacks.

In a millisecond, I thought of and saw Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl. With Afghan Girl as a template in the mind’s eye, what becomes so powerful about Qadri’s shot is the way this woman’s head can actually seem to rotate from face forward, to sideways and hidden, as one unpacks the two. The other effect created by the comparison, and it’s even more intense, is how — almost seeking out that well familiar face and those penetrating eyes, the face of Qadri’s subject seems to erase on the spot. And like a gut punch, we practically experience what happened to her.

(photo: Altaf Qadri / Associated Press. caption: First Place – 2014 Portrait/Personality. In this Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 photo, a 30-year acid attack victim, name withheld on request, sits in the office of the Indian NGO Stop Acid Attacks, in New Delhi, India.)

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Michael Shaw
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