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Courage to live in the face of adversity

Eva Luise Köhler pays tribute to Alice Smeets for her photo from Haiti

The young Belgian photographer Alice Smeets is the winner of the international photo competition “UNICEF-Photo of the Year”. Her winning picture shows a girl in the largest slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital. Although she has to live between dirt and rubbish, the girl is wearing a clean white dress with matching ribbons in her hair whilst walking barefoot through the mud. “The photo shows us the courage and energy of a little girl who is growing up in the face of adversity. Children from the poorest backgrounds often demonstrate great strength” said UNICEF patroness Eva Luise Köhler at the award ceremony on Thursday in Berlin. “The UNICEF-Photo of the Year is a plea to heed and support these children”.

The 21-year-old photographer, Alice Smeets, from the city of Eupen in the German-speaking part of East Belgium, is the youngest winner in the history of the contest, which was organized for the first time in 2000. This year, international experts put forward 1,450 photos by 128 photographers from 31 countries. The jury, chaired by Klaus Honnef, Professor of the theory of photography, chose the first, second and third places as well as 11 'honourable mentions'. UNICEF presented the awards for the 9th time to photos of high artistic and photo-journalistic quality that illustrate the living conditions of children. The competition is supported by the magazine GEO and is financed by Citibank Germany.

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more images from Alcie Smeets, Biography

1st Prize 2008 for Alice Smeets

Surviving in Haiti

For five hundred years misfortune and terror have reigned in Haiti. First it was colonialism and slavery, then came the dictators. After that followed chronic political instability and hurricanes. And throughout all that: hardship, distrust, treachery, poverty, dirt, destruction, illness, tyranny, oppression, persecution, death.

People live unprotected in stinking and burning waste, without work, without reliable sources of energy, without drinkable water, without clean air to breath, without money for their next meal. In the hovels the poorest of the poor resort to eating dirt simply to fill their stomachs. In a setting like this, a little girl in a white dress seems to be a frightened angel that finds itself in the underworld and nevertheless determined to fight for a little bit of beauty.

This glimpse of how hell could look, overwhelmed the young Belgian photographer, Alice Smeets, on her first trip to Haiti. The more time she spent in the country, however, the more this feeling eased, to be replaced by compassion and a strong desire to use her photography to raise awareness for the oppressed and humiliated.

Alice Smeets says: “ I am often asked why I always want to keep returning to Haiti instead of discovering new countries. Everyone has a choice in life. Philip Jones Griffith (photographer for the Magnum Agency, who passed away in 2008) taught me something important during my time as his assistant: photographers can either report on a a wide range of situations in a cursory fashion, or they can carry out a deep and intensive examination of just one setting. Both are options, but the latter gives you the opportunity to continuously create visual statements that can hopefully lead to assistance for those suffering.

Photo: Alice Smeets, Belgium, Out of Focus

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more Images from Oded Balilty, Biography

2nd Prize 2008 for Oded Balilty

The Earthquake in China

The rigor mortis affecting the region has spread to the psyches of the living. At least 70,000 people fell victim to the apocalyptic earthquake on the 12th May 2008 in the Chinese province of Sichuan. 15 million houses collapsed. Since then almost 6 million people have been living in emergency accommodation. This catastrophe was followed by an earthquake of the soul that caused no less suffering. The inner world of the survivors has been shaken to its very core, damaged and traumatized, and is now haunted by the demons of the horror that they survived. Their outside world also lacks firm foundations. Amidst all this, the Israeli photographer, Oded Balilty, only rarely met a hint of childish light-heartedness.

Photo: Oded Balilty, Israel, AP

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more Images from von Balazs Gardi, Biography

3rd Prize 2008 for Balazs Gardi

Collateral Damage

For whom is the Korengal-Valley in the Kunar province of northwest Afghanistan the most dangerous place in the world? Is it the villagers who find themselves between the fronts? Or the Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters? Or the American Soldiers? The risk is spread gruesomely evenly among all these groups.

The Hungarian photographer, Balazs Gardi, moves as a neutral observer through this landscape that is so foreign to him and is shocked by every dead or injured person that he comes across. He asks himself whether this madness will ever end, for he can see no sense to the endless suffering.

Children in Afghanistan are both unintentionally and intentionally victims of the violence. They find themselves, for example, between the fronts when Nato-led security forces move against insurgents. Taliban fighters intentionally attack schools. In 2008 alone, there were 256 violent attacks up to the middle of November – mostly on schools for girls. 58 people died in these attacks.

Photo: Balazs Gardi, Hungary, VII Network, Alexia Foundation

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Mario Tama more images and text, Biography
Gordon Welters more images and text, Biography
Stanislas Guigui more images and text, Biography
Frank Röth more images and text, Biography
Christian Als more images and text, Biography
Marcus Bleasedale more images and text, Biography
Shiho Fukada more images and text, Biography
Wiliam Daniels more images and text, Biography
Brenda Anne Kenneally more images and text, Biography
Melissa Lyttle more images and text, Biography
Justin Maxon more images and text, Biography

Honorable Mentions

In 2008 honorable mentions were given to the following photographers:
  • Mario Tama, USA, Getty Images
  • Gordon Welters, Germany, laif
  • Stanislas Guigui, France, Künstler
  • Frank Röth, Germany, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ)
  • Christian Als, Denmark, for Berlingske Tidende
  • Marcus Bleasdale, UK, VII
  • Shiho Fukada, Japan, for New York Times
  • Wiliam Daniels, France, Freelancer
  • Brenda Anne Kenneally, USA, Freelancer
  • Melissa Lyttle, USA, St. Petersburg Times
  • Justin Maxon, USA, Aurora Select
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