Masrat Zahra wins top photojournalism award

For her moving images of Kashmir, Masrat Zahra has been named the winner of the 2020 Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award.

The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) named Masrat as the winner of this year’s Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award on Thursday.

According to a statement, the freelance photojournalist’s images depicting conflict in Kashmir and its toll on local communities were praised by the jury for their “humanity” and her particular focus on the stories of women.

Juror Eman Mohammed said that, “Masrat’s portfolio touches us with its humanity. Her work is intensely feeling, and she consistently puts herself before extreme danger to bring us the stories of her communities, especially those of women.”

Juror Tara Pixley stated, “Masrat’s use of color, composition, shadow and light infuses her imagery with both dread and community. The story behind her work lends a closeness to her subjects, which requires a huge level of courage given the current situation in Kashmir.”

Zahra, who was born in the city of Srinagar, provides an emotional insight into daily life inside Kashmir with her photographs.

The award honors the memory of German photojournalist AnjaNiedringhaus, who was killed in 2014 in Afghanistan.

The $20,000 (€17,500) prize is awarded annually by the IWMF, which since 1990 has been fighting for press freedom and supporting courageous female journalists.

“Countless communities around the world are facing enormous threat, harm and censorship due to governmental threats and the declining state of press freedom worldwide,” said the IWMF Executive Director Elisa Lees Muñoz.

“During these times, Anja’s legacy reminds us that it’s the communities beneath the headlines who are the true targets of civil and social brutality. We are deeply honored to recognize Masrat, Laurel and Nahira this year in Anja’s spirit.”

The jury of this year’s awards – Corinne Dufka, Jacqueline Larma, Eman Mohammed, Bryan Monroe, Robert Nickelsberg, Adriane Ohanesian and Tara Pixley – issued the following remarks: “Our winner and honorees this year exhibited stunning emotion, dynamic composition and most significantly, put themselves in direct contact with those experiencing immediate suffering, at immense personal risk. These portfolios are not easy to create, and these women crafted haunting and lasting narratives of their own communities, bringing the world into their stories. Congratulations Masrat, Laurel and Nahira.”

“Zahra’s pictures provide a glimpse into the everyday lives of people living in Kashmir, which sees regular internet shutdowns and where thousands of civilians have been killed in fighting since 1989.”

“In one of her photos, a woman and two children carefully maneuver around rolls of barbed wire in the street. As one of a few women photojournalists working in Kashmir, Zahra is currently being investigated for photographs she posted on social media and could face a fine of up to seven years in prison,” IWMF said in a statement.

Zahra said receiving the award “shows that the work of journalists like me coming from small places is being acknowledged.”

“I also expect it to inspire other women photographers who are working in difficult environments. This is an honor to all women who choose to work in conflict zones. Finally, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my mentor, Showkat Nanda, for helping me to be a better storyteller.”

Zahra’s work has appeared in The Caravan, The Washington Post, TRT World, Al Jazeera, The New Humanitarian, Religion Unplugged and several other media outlets. Zahra has previously exhibited at the annual Photoville festival in New York with her portfolio, “Journalists Under Fire.”

This year’s award also honored the work of two other women photojournalists from Hong Kong and Puerto Rico.

Freelance photojournalist Laurel Chor was named as an honoree documenting the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. She has also covered a range of political and cultural topics across the region, including the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Puerto Rican freelance photojournalist NahiraMontcourt was also honored for her reporting on natural disasters, protests and social unrest in the US territory.

Montcourt’s work is centered on documenting protests, local politics and natural disasters focusing on women, social conflict and inequality.