Imagen de la serie "Migrantes atravesando el tapón del Darién" de Federico Ríos.

Darien Gap, ©Federico Ríos


Humanitarian photography that stirs consciences

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  • On the World Day of Photography and Humanitarian Assistance, the NGO Doctors of the World pays tribute to photojournalists and aid workers for their courage, commitment, and contribution to not leave in oblivion those who suffer human rights violations.
  • Photojournalists from all over the world can now submit their projects to the 27th edition of the Luis Valtueña International Award for Humanitarian Photography, which will remain open until October 20.

Madrid, August 19, 2023 – The story of what is happening in the world can be told from different perspectives. One of those chosen by Doctors of the World is through humanitarian photography, which makes it possible to make visible, denounce and connect with reality. It does so through the best humanitarian images that year after year it gathers in each edition of the Luis Valtueña Humanitarian Photography Award, which aims to highlight the major humanitarian crises and unjust situations in the world and to highlight the role of photographers and cooperation personnel in these contexts.

For 26 years, veteran and amateur photojournalists from all corners of the world have been taking part in this contest organized by the health NGO, who become the best storytellers in defense of human rights, using their lenses to capture feelings and emotions and take us into the skin of the protagonists.

The chosen scenarios are the most complex, from the famines that hit the populations of South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Somalia and many other African countries, the droughts that have generated food shortages and threatened the lives of thousands of refugees and displaced people in the face of the international community’s oblivion, the situations that testify to women who have suffered violence such as female genital mutilation or the coverage of natural disasters such as the tsunami in Indonesia, the earthquake in Japan or in Haiti. Armed conflicts also occupy an important place in the denunciation of these realities: the victims of war in places like Sierra Leone, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or the current barbarism we are witnessing today in Ukraine. These are just a few examples of the more than 50,000 images received by Médecins du Monde through the photo contest, many of which have been exhibited in numerous national and international exhibitions in recent years.

The Bucha massacre, Santi Palacios

Photography and humanitarian action, an indissoluble binomial

Photography and humanitarian action are an indissoluble binomial and it is no coincidence: both are where people need them most, to support them and to bear witness to what is happening, with the aim of preventing it from happening again. Despite the increasingly complicated conditions, humanitarian personnel and photojournalists continue to work day by day, with even more willpower and, even if they sometimes have to withdraw, retreat or take cover, they always return to continue being witnesses, uncomfortable but necessary.

After more than 30 years of experience, in which Doctors of the World has been working in numerous emergencies and other contexts, the NGO warns that humanitarian personnel, patients, photojournalists and civilian health personnel in hospitals continue to be besieged and killed, displaced persons camps and humanitarian corridors are bombed with impunity, and international treaties that should serve to protect those who are involved in war and complex emergencies are not complied with.

These are more than enough reasons for this health organization to encourage photojournalists from all corners of the world to continue contributing with their work and to present their projects in the open call for the Luis Valtueña International Humanitarian Photography Award, so that stories can continue to be told to stir consciences and denounce the human rights violations that multiply here and there around the planet.

On the World Day of Photography and Humanitarian Assistance, Doctors of the World wants to pay tribute to photojournalists and aid workers for their commitment and contribution to assist vulnerable populations, reconstruct the memory of history from a more humane perspective and not leave in oblivion those who suffer from repression, exclusion, violence, stigma or any other of the human rights violations that are still occurring.

Luis Valtueña, a legacy of photography and cooperation

But the history of the International Award for Humanitarian Photography does not have a simple or beautiful beginning, quite the contrary: it is covered with pain for Doctors of the World. The health NGO’s aid workers were killed – three in Rwanda (1997) and one in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1995) – while carrying out humanitarian aid work to assist civilian populations surviving under the siege of armed conflicts.
This event marked a very dark milestone in the history of the organization, but also in the history of cooperation and humanitarian aid. Mercedes Navarro, murdered in 1995 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, became the first Spanish aid worker to fall in armed conflicts.
The names and work of these people: Mercedes Navarro, Antonio Madrazos, Flors Sirera and Luis Valtueña were engraved in the memory of the organization, which transformed this pain into a legacy of struggle against injustice and created the Luis Valtueña Award. Since Luis was a photographer as well as an aid worker, it was decided to name the contest after him.