ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – This year's recipient of an award named for an Associated Press photographer killed in Afghanistan is a photojournalist who captures the quiet dignity of women and girls who have endured cruel practices such as child marriage, genital mutilation and acid attacks.
New York-based freelance photographer Stephanie Sinclair will accept the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award on Thursday in Washington.
"Courage is not only defined by facing risk on the front lines of war but also displaying emotional and intellectual courage required to continue to bear witness to scenes of despair with eloquence and compassion," the panel of industry judges gathered by the International Women's Media Foundation wrote, adding that Sinclair received their unanimous support.
The annual award, first given in 2015, goes to a female photographer whose life and work honor Niedringhaus' legacy. It was established by the International Women's Media Foundation and includes a $20,000 prize, funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
Niedringhaus was part of an AP team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for coverage of the Iraq War. A native of Germany, she was killed on assignment in 2014 when an Afghan police commander walked up to the car she was in and opened fire.
Honorable mentions in this year's contest went to Louisa Gouliamaki, an Athens-based photojournalist and a permanent stringer for AFP who documented European refugees and Kiev's deadliest day during the 2014 Ukrainian revolution; and Nicole Tung, an Istanbul-based photojournalist who submitted work from Syria and Iraq.
Sinclair, a 44-year-old Miami native who attended the University of Florida and interned at the then-St. Petersburg Times, is best known for her series "Too Young to Wed," which examines forced child marriage around the world.
"In my experience, girls in developing countries, the world's poorest areas, really have the least amount of rights and protection. They're the most vulnerable in the world," she said. "It's our responsibility to take care of those who don't have the same amount of support. We don't get to control where we're born. If they succeed, we all succeed."
Her photos are stunning and often difficult to view, with images of women disfigured from attempting suicide by self-immolation or the tears of a girl forced into painful female genital mutilation.
"We are drawn into the lives of three Nigerian girls, their faces softly illuminated in an otherwise dark room. The motion of the Afghan girl writhing in pain from self immolation, fearing her husband's reaction to a simple broken TV, portrays her shifting reality and portends the labyrinth of pain she will endure for the rest of her life. The photo of a girl clutching a wall during childbirth transports us directly into the clinic room," wrote the jury.
Sinclair said that this isn't a case of her parachuting in to cover a story, only to move on to the next topic. She began documenting issues of women and girls in Afghanistan in 2003. And later, she started her own nonprofit, Too Young to Wed. The organization aims to amplify the frequently overlooked voices of girls and women around the world — often using photography. This summer, Sinclair will host a workshop for child marriage survivors to tell their stories through photography and portraiture.
"With this topic, with girls rights, I just feel like I'm on the right side of history here," she said. "I'm honored to be accepted into these communities to tell the story that they want the world to know. I'm blessed to be able to share these stories, and awards like this help amplify it. Each time I'm interviewed, all of these photographs are shared, and the girls' voices are heard."
On the Web:
About Sinclair's nonprofit, Too Young to Wed: http://tooyoungtowed.org/
About the International Women's Media Foundation: http://www.iwmf.org/
Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush