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MICHAEL MOR­RIS

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

michael.mor­ris@inl.co.za

‘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.

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