Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus was killed on April 4, 2014, while covering presidential election preparations in Afghanistan for the Associated Press. Her photographic work spans more than 25 years of major international events and conflicts. Her death shocked the photojournalism community and many have come forward to celebrate Niedringhaus's life and dedication to covering the hardest news.
David Guttenfelder, chief photographer of Asia for the Associated Press and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Magazine, worked closely with Niedringhaus for many years. He shared his memories of her with National Geographic senior photo editor Pamela Chen.
What was it like to work with Niedringhaus?
I met her in Albania in 1999 while covering the war in Kosovo. She was working for EPA [European Pressphoto Agency] at the time. Somebody said, "Anja Niedringhaus is here" and I thought, "Oh no." Her reputation was so strong and I was afraid of getting clobbered on the newspaper front pages every day. But I was looking forward to meeting her. When AP hired her some years later I was kind of relieved: She was now on our team.
Over the years I've worked with her in many places. Mainly Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade or more since those wars began. Anja and I were two of the photographers responsible for the building of AP's Iraqi photo staff. She not only photographed the war herself, including the battle of Fallujah, but she mentored the entire Iraqi team. And she did it in her own huge-hearted, tough-love way. The Pulitzer Prize that AP won that year included her photographs and the pictures by all of the Iraqi guys.
I honestly don't think that the AP could have covered that war without her influence. Our entire staff was raised in her image. I'm sure that even now, when they go out the door with their cameras they ask themselves "What would Anja do?" I think maybe every AP photographer has asked themselves that at one point.
How would you describe her photography?
She covered every major conflict, every massive world-changing event of the past 25 years. She was unflinchingly brave. Not in a cavalier way, but more like "This is very dangerous. But it's important. It has to be done. It has to be covered. Who else is going to do it? I'm going."
She was also the most well-rounded and versatile wire service photographer I can think of. She's the only one I know who could go to the front lines of Afghanistan or Libya, and then also be AP's go-to photographer for the primo finish line position of the Olympic 100-meter dash final. She never, ever missed.
She also never stopped evolving as a photographer. She did empathetic long-term projects. She was creative and bold. She took pictures in a very honest, tender way. But she was a journalist first. She really set the bar when it comes to no-nonsense integrity, ethics, even morality. She expected everyone around her to be as unshakable. If you had Anja's respect, then that was saying something hugely important about you and your work. That I was her friend and worked side by side with her—I wear that like a badge of honor.
Tell us a story about what it was like to work alongside her in the field.
During one of her military embeds in Kandahar, Afghanistan, someone threw a grenade over a wall and it exploded while her squad was on patrol. Anja was injured with shrapnel in her hamstring. Everyone was worried about her and calling her. She just rolled her eyes and made a joke about it. She said, "What do you want me to do? Go home? Over some shrapnel in my butt?" She wanted to continue working and only left when her bosses insisted. She was so serious and practical. Modest. She was funny. Ask anyone and they will tell you that she had the loudest laugh of all time.
I am so sorry.
This is a profound loss for photojournalism. You think back to the giant figures of our industry—names like Robert Capa, Henri Huet—to understand what this means to our profession.
A lot of people are shaken by this, including me. I imagine her seeing me get choked up over her death, and laughing at me for being too soft.
She was one of the best people I've ever known. I was so lucky to have known and worked with her. I'm just one of countless people all over the world to have loved Anja. We are all totally devastated.
More of Niedringhaus's work follows: