Born in Athens in 1960, Yannis Behrakis was inspired to take up photography after chancing across a Time-Life photobook as a young man. Going on to study photography in Athens and at Middlesex University in the UK, he starting work for Reuters in 1987, and by 1989 had been sent on his first foreign assignment – Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, where he quickly made his name.
“He quickly displayed a knack for being in the right place at the right time,” reports Reuters’ site The Wider Image. “When Gaddafi visited a hotel where journalists had been cooped up for several days, a scrum of reporters crowded around the Libyan leader to get pictures and soundbites.
‘I somehow managed to sneak next to him and get some wide-angle shots,’ Behrakis wrote. ‘The next day my picture was all over the front pages of papers around the world.’”
It’s disconcerting to think how years of work and effort, of countless hours spent practising and honing a skill, can be wrenched away from any of us in just a few minutes of misfortune. It’s also, for any of us used to good health, troubling to consider how reliant we are on the basic functionality of our bodies. A photographer, for example, needs to be able to hold a camera, to have the strength to frame a shot and time the click of the shutter in the heat of the moment. Shorn of that basic ability, what are we left with? Early one morning in May 2015, Sim had to face that exact question.
She was on assignment for a French newspaper, travelling to the Tumen Economic Development Zone, a government-owned complex of Chinese factories on the edge of the border with North Korea. Tumen employed North Korean labourers who, with state sanctioning, would be sent to live and work in the economic zone. The brief was to capture how North Korea and China trade. This place seemed like the perfect microcosm for that complex relationship – the makings of great pictures.
Entering Tumen with her driver and colleagues from Le Monde, she failed to spot a sign that read: “No smoking, photography, or practising driving”. As they approached the factories, the car passed a small group of women in black jumpsuits, knelt by the roadside picking weeds from the ground. Sitting in the driver’s seat with the window wound down, Sim instinctively raised her camera and fired off a couple of shots. “Almost immediately, the women turned around, ran towards the cab, and reached into the car,” she wrote in an article for ChinaFile, recounting events.
Reuters Pictures has launched a new grant at this year’s Visa pour l’Image festival in Perpignan, France. With eight grants, each worth $5,000 USD available, and expert advice from Pulitzer Prize winning photographers available, Reuters hopes to attract the next generation of photojournalists.