The art of photojournalism allows for proclamation through observation. Most of us are visual learners and understanders, giving the passivity of photography more power than the bluntness of forceful action. This humble approach is something that should be celebrated and admired, if not for its sheer beauty and revelatory documentation, than for the ways in which it inspires and informs dwellers of society of the things they may not see for themselves, and maybe in turn prompting them to react.
This artform has been celebrated for years, allotting for numerous competitions, forums, and platforms to emerge in support. One of the most notable being the Dutch foundation World Press Photo. The World Press Photo Awards began in 1955, showcasing and highlighting works of different photographers internationally. A little over 20 years after the annual award foundation began spotlighting different photos and their takers, the very first female photographer to win the World Press Photo of the Year award was French photographer Françoise (Fifi) Demulder (June 9, 1947 – September 3, 2008) in 1977. A spunky, young, and confident ex-model, Demulder caught attention for her work and was recognized for her wartime photographs despite the profession’s male centricity, perhaps due to her fearlessness when busting through to wherever she needed to be to get a good shot. Though she detested war, its sufferers affected her so much that she felt that she had to document it. Beginning her career by covering the Vietnam war, she had since travelled to several different countries, covering numerous instances of civil crises.
Françoise Demulder’s winning photograph is of a plea, taken on January 18th 1976 in Beirut, Lebanon. As is documented by World Press Photo, “A Palestinian woman pleads with a Phalange gunman in the Karantina neighborhood of East Beirut (also known as La Quarantaine). That morning, Phalange militia had attacked and evicted the largely Palestinian refugee population of this district, setting their homes on fire and leaving hundreds dead. The Karantina massacre was one of the many violent incidents marking the first years of the Lebanese civil war.”
The observed war would last for almost 15 years after this photo was taken. This sort of plea captures and projects the end of wits, in a situation where the only option and tactic left is to beg and appeal to one’s humanity. What is captured in this photo is not only an act of sacrifice, self-trust, and utter bravery, but also an act of love to confront another human being in the midst of their destruction.
A great photo does not require a particular form, it does not need to be staged or candid. In many cases, it is a blend of luck, skill, and a photographer placing him or herself in a position of time and space in which they are ready, willing, and able to capture something remarkable. Françoise Demulder’s tenacity and willingness to go to a place of uncertainty and unsafety during a time where she was not taken as seriously as her male counter-parts, makes her a treasure and a heroine of the photographic world. Not because she was the first woman to win this prestigious award, but because she did not allow the lack of accomplished females in her profession to deter her in any fashion. By taking part in paving the way for female artists to be seen and recognized, her accomplishments encourage all photographers to continue to inspire and be inspired.