“Normally people don’t get set on fire during the protests, but there were many barricades on fire and the demonstrators use Molotov bombs,” says Ronaldo Schemidt. “I got the photo when a National Guard motorcycle exploded during a clash between demonstrators and government forces. It was lying on the floor, on fire, surrounded by young people. One of the protestors hit the tank, generating an explosion. Then the guy in the photo caught fire. I was standing a few meters away with my back to him, but when I felt the heat of the flames, I got my camera and turned around to start shooting whatever had just happened. It all took just a few seconds, so I didn’t know what I was shooting. I was moved by instinct, it was very quick. I didn’t stop shooting until I realised what was going on. There was somebody on fire running towards me.”
Ronaldo Schemidt has won the World Press Photo of the Year award for an arresting image taken during an anti-government protest in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. The chosen picture shows 28-year-old José Víctor Salazar Balza ablaze amid violent clashes with police after the gas tank of a nearby motorbike exploded. Miraculously, Salazar survived the incident but with first- and second-degree burns. Schemidt’s image was among six nominated for the award, including by Patrick Brown (Australia) for his photograph of the Rohingya crisis; Adam Ferguson (Australia) for his image of a Boko Haram survivor; Toby Melville (UK) for his photo following the immediate aftermath of a terror attack in London; and Ivor Prickett (Ireland) for two images from the Battle for Mosul. Of the winning image, jury member and deputy director of photography at National Geographic, Whitney C Johnson said: “It’s quite symbolic. The man, he has a mask on his face. He’s come to represent not just himself and himself on fire, but this idea of Venezuela burning.” Bulent Kiliç, another jury member and chief photographer …
This year, he says, all the images have been thoroughly checked before the shortlists have been announced, let alone the winners. “All the checking is already done – all raw files, where the images were shot, everything,” he tells BJP. “We know how important it is that everything can be trusted, and we keep asking questions until we are satisfied. We wouldn’t announce the shortlists unless we were.”
“If you are asked to think what is the photo of the year, you have to try to have something about the events of that year, and that sends you to a news or documentary photography,” says Magdalena Herrera, director of photography for Geo France and chair of the jury for the 2018 World Press Photo Contest. “But we were looking for a point of view, the photographer’s point of view. We weren’t looking for an opinion, but for images in which someone had been able to take the photographic tool to envisage their part. Even if you are a documentary photographer, you choose the moment when you take the shot. YOU are the one reporting.