IFE is never easy for a photographer,” Alexander Shtol says. “He needs to be exactly where and when something dramatic is happening.” Every news photographer internalises these truths – as some of the photographs on this page testify, but for Andrei Stenin, one of the team under director of photography Shtol at Russia’s governmentowned Rossiya Segodnya news agency, it was a fatal wisdom.
On August 5 two years ago, Stenin was on assignment in south-eastern Ukraine when, against the backdrop of Moscow’s controversial military intervention in its neighbouring state, he lost contact with his editorial team. Uncertainty remains about whether, prior to his death, he was actually held by hostile Ukrainian forces.
The record suggests, however, that the next day – though it was only confirmed nearly a month later – Stenin, 33, was killed in the Donetsk region when his car reportedly drew fire and caught alight.
Today, Stenin’s craft is memorialised in the Andrei Stenin International Press Photo Contest, established after his death under the patronage of the Russian National Commission for Unesco. The contest, of which Independent Media is an international partner, is a platform for young photographers in Russia and around the world.
The express objective of the competition is to promote young photographers around the globe, and attract public attention to photojournalism and its preoccupations. It is open to contestants aged between 18 and 33, and is judged by leading figures in the Russian and international photographic community.
Stenin’s fate lends a certain grim poignancy to Shtol’s reckoning that “planning safe escape routes when you are in a conflict zone is not a useless precaution either”.
“The main thing is to know how to conquer the desire to stay a little longer in a dangerous environment.”
In his tribute to Stenin, Shtol added: “Andrei had all these talents and he knew for certain that he was the harshest judge of his own work.”
The award-winning photographer, who had worked across a variety of media from the start of his career in 2003, specialised in documenting the human element in conflict situations, in the former Soviet region, but also further afield, in places such as Syria, Gaza, Libya and Turkey.
Unusually for a press photographer, Stenin was buried with full military honours in September 2014 and posthumously awarded Russia’s Order of Courage by President Vladimir Putin.
In an evidently contested Wikipedia entry (readers are warned that “some of this article’s listed sources may not be reliable” and that “the neutrality of this article is disputed”) it is noted: “Stenin was allegedly embedded with Russianbacked combatants in Ukraine. Critics have labelled his activity a part of the fabrication of war propaganda.
“After Stenin’s disappearance, Anton Gerashchenko, an official with Ukraine’s interior ministry, suggested in an interview with the Latvian radio station Baltkom that the photojournalist might have been detained in the conflict area by Ukraine’s security services. Gerashchenko later retracted his statement. Controversy surrounding the life, work, and death of Stenin continues.”
The winning photographs published here are a selection from an exhibition of this year’s winners, drawn from a field of contestants in 71 countries across five continents.
The exhibition was launched in late August at the Museum of Moscow, and comes to Cape Town after showings elsewhere in Russia, Slovenia and Turkey. The next stops will include Paris, Beijing, Berlin, Cairo and Shanghai.
Among the work featured is a photo series by Grand Prix winner Italian Danilo Garcia Di Meo about the life of a paralysed girl named Leticia; Hungarian photojournalist Balazs Beli’s photo story about refugees and migrants travelling from Turkey to Greece across the Aegean Sea; and images of divers at last year’s World Aquatics Championships, by Russian photographer Alexei Malgavko.
One of Stenin’s former colleagues at Rossiya Segodnya, Ilya Pitalev, believed the young photographer’s “determination, endless interest in life and sensitivity to others… would certainly have led him to the top of his profession, but for that black day in August (2014)”.
His ironic fate was, as a photographer, to be in the right place at the right time, “a talent in its own right”, as his former boss, Shtol, put it, “which fate bestows on few”.
“Luck is just part of the story. It also requires the ability to sit and wait for things to start happening, fighting the temptation to leave.”
The exhibition is at the Eclectica Gallery at 69 Burg Street all of next week, and from October 31 to November 6 at Muller’s Gallery on the corner of Longmarket and Parliament streets.
‘Waiting to register’ by Matic Zorman of Slovenia (Jury Honourable Mention) shows a child refugee covered by a raincoat in an eastern European registration centre.
‘Water Polo: Light and Lines’ by Konstantin Chalabov of Russia (Second Place in the sports series category) captures a moment in the US-Brazil match at last year’s World Aquatics Championships in Kazan.