Samuel Aranda: “Being a photojournalist has taught me that not everything is what it seems”
CNA interviews Samuel Aranda, the Catalan photographer who eighteen months ago leapt to fame by winning the World Press Photo competition, the most important award in photojournalism thanks to a shot that would become the symbol of the Arab Spring: Fatima cradling her son Zayed, who was suffering from the effects of tear gas after participating in a demonstration in Yemen. However even after reaching such heady heights, Aranda hasn’t stopped working as his controversial photo essay for the New York Times about the extent of the Spanish economic crisis shows.
Barcelona (CNA).- Eighteen months ago, the Catalan photographer Samuel Aranda (Santa Coloma de Gramanet, 1979) leapt to fame by winning the World Press Photo competition, the most important award in photojournalism thanks to a shot that would become the symbol of the Arab Spring: Fatima cradling her son Zayed, who was suffering from the effects of tear gas after participating in a demonstration in Yemen. However even after reaching such heady heights, Aranda hasn\u2019t stopped working as his controversial photo essay for the New York Times about the extent of the Spanish economic crisis shows.
Q.- When did you start working as a photojournalist?
I started twelve years ago, when I was nineteen.
Q.- Why did you choose this profession?
I chose it by accident. I started in Santa Coloma de Gramanet, where I grew up, taking photos of demonstrations with my friends, and shortly after some newspapers started to publish my photos. When I saw the impact that publishing in newspapers had, I realised that many things could be achieved through photography.
Q.- Now you have an exclusive contract with The New York Times. Is it because of the Spanish recession that you decided to work for a foreign media?
One of the reasons, yes. But one of the main reasons is because I like the way The New York Times works. I think that the Spanish media are quite partisan, ethics is not top of their agenda. Besides, The New York Times is a more stable newspaper, and it allows me to work with more time, from two to four months, to prepare my pieces.
Q.- If you had been told when you were a child that you would take photos in conflicts, what would you have said?
I don\u2019t really see this job as being something more special than others. It\u2019s a profession like any other ones. I don\u2019t exclusively cover conflicts. For example, I cover other issues, like migration. I\u2019m not fascinated by conflicts, they are just part of my job. I must say that I enjoy the job, getting involved is an enriching experience. It gives you a lot as a human being.
Q.- What did winning the World Press Photo Contest mean for you?
Ten thousand euros. And obviously, it gives you the opportunity to work in many other places that I would never have considered before. I have worked for magazines or newspapers, which are governed by immediacy, but now I can take my time to prepare the projects. But the best thing without any doubt was meeting the main characters of the photo after receiving the prize, Fatima and Zayed. When I took the photo I didn\u2019t know who they were. Being able to go back to Yemen and meet them...I think that this is the best reward I took from winning the World Press Photo.
Q.- And what did working in Yemen meant to you?
I went there for four months, and the day I took the photo was such a violent day. One of the positive experiences was that I expected to find an anti-western society, but nothing could be further from the truth. People were terrific, and it was not at all difficult to work there. It was an incredible experience, and changed my way of seeing many things. For example, Arab society is not really well considered here, we sometimes tend to think that these countries are full of terrorists, and it\u2019s not true. This is one of the good things about being a photojournalist, it teaches you that not everything is what it seems.
Q.- Your name appeared in the media recently, after The New York Times published your photos of the crisis in Spain, showing a country devastated by poverty. Some Spanish newspapers criticised your work. Why do you think those black and white photos were so controversial?
Only the conservative media criticised them, and they did so because there\u2019s no freedom of press in Spain. Every media supports its agenda and its advertisers, and they didn\u2019t like the fact that a foreign newspaper was explaining what was happening. The funny thing was that some days later, the Red Cross published a statement warning about the situation in Spain, and the same media that had criticised my work published this story, with photos even harder than mine. Surrealistic.
Q.- Some of the people who raised their voices against the photos said that the use of black and white was to make the photos more dramatic. What would you say to that?
I think that this debate is so old and wasted that it\u2019s not worth talking about. People have been using black and white photography since its invention. Besides, I don\u2019t understand why I can go to India, Gaza or Iraq and take photos in black and white and win prizes for them, but when I do the same in Spain I\u2019m accused of having bad intentions. It doesn\u2019t make any sense.
Q.- What did the people in the photos say about your work? Were they angry about it?
Well, first I have to say that we had spent a lot of time together. For example, with the family who was kicked out of their house, we spent a week together, talking, getting to know each other, trying to understand their situation. So obviously they wanted me to inform about what was happening to them and with the rest of the people who were and still are in the same situation. Besides, after publishing the photos I received lots of e-mails, and 80% of them thanked me for taking them. I don\u2019t worry about negative feedback if it comes from the media; I will start to worry the day that a Spanish conservative newspaper likes my job and I\u2019m criticised by local people.