Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Abby Zimet: To Tell You the Story

Yannis Behrakis, one of the world’s most respected photographers who chronicled with empathy “the best and the worst of humankind” in global conflicts and crises, has died of cancer at 58. Born in Athens, Behrakis got his first foreign assignment in 1989, covering Gaddifi’s Libya for Reuters. For the next 30 years, he documented violence, upheaval and survival around the world, from wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone to the Egyptian uprising. In 2000, while covering the civil war in Sierra Leone, he barely survived an ambush by gunmen that killed several colleagues, including his close friend Kurt Schork; he hid in the jungle for hours, and later said Schork’s memory helped push him to return to war photography.

Behrakis won multiple awards, including “News Photographer of the Year” seven times in his native Greece, a first prize from World Press Photo, and the 2016 Pulitzer for his coverage of the world’s refugees, for whom he sought “to be their voice.” Among his most famous photos of the crisis was a Syrian father carrying his daughter in the rain near the Greek border; with a young daughter himself, it represented to him “the universal father and the unconditional love of father to daughter. “This picture proves that there are superheroes after all,” he said, adding, “I would love to be this father.” Always, colleagues said, Behrakis focused on the humanity and dignity of those in distress. “My mission is to tell you the story, then you decide what you want to do,” he said. “My mission is to make sure that nobody can say: ‘I didn’t know’.”

A refugee arriving off Lesbos struggles to keep his children afloat


n 1998, during war in the former Yugoslavia, an ethnic Albanian man lowers the body of a two-year-old boy into his coffin: “It almost looked like his spirit was leaving his body for the heavens.”

I

A Syrian refugee, wearing a plastic garbage bag against the rain, carries and kisses his daughter down a road in Greece.


Refugees plead with officials to enter Macedonia


Behrakis. Reuters photo


Kurdish refugees struggle for bread during aid distribution at the Iraqi-Turkish border


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