Sharjah: The winner of the World Press Photo of the Year 2019, John Moore, has spoken about his picture’s impact on people’s perception of immigrants - as well as on himself emotionally.
The American photographer’s winning image, ‘Crying Girl on the Border’, shows a two-year-old Honduran girl, Yanela Sanchez, crying as she and mom Sandra Sanchez are taken into custody by US border officials in Texas in June 2018.
The picture spread around the world, in the press and on social media, and came to stand for the hardships faced by people trying to cross the US border, as well as the repercussions of American government policy towards them. It was taken during a time of controversy surrounding the then US practice of separating parents and children caught by border officials (though Yalena and her mom were not separated and the practice was stopped soon afterwards).
On Thursday, Moore told Gulf News in Sharjah at the Xposure international photography festival that he is still in touch with Yalena and Sandra.
“I was first able to reach them about three weeks after I took this picture and since then they’ve been going through an asylum process that is extremely long and frustrating, as it is for most asylum seekers in the US. They are finally going to court, with an actual court date in the next month or two. They’ve had no court hearing until this time and there’s such a backlog of cases in the US that it takes a lot of time,” Moore, a senior staff photographer and special correspondent for Getty Images, said.
Recalling the social and political atmosphere prevailing at the time, Moore said: “I took this photograph in an important moment because the Trump administration in the US had recently instituted a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ on immigration at the border. That new policy was relatively abstract to the public but when Americans saw this image, many of them turned against the new government policy because they saw the humanity of people who were fleeing their difficult lives for an uncertain future in the US. The photograph touched many people.”
Moore had not expected the picture to go global and shape public opinion on immigrants and how the US government deals with the “complex issue”.
I see the camera as a source of strength ... I believe it can make a positive difference in this world and believing that allows me to work through difficult emotions, in difficult situations.
“There was no way I could have known in that moment that the image would have as much impact as it did. I knew it was important but rarely in one’s career does one’s work have that level of impact where it is seen by not only the people in your own country, but it touches people around the world. Part of the reason that happens now is because of social media. Social media takes images from a local or regional impact to a global one, and it does so very quickly.”
The picture also affected another person deeply – Moore himself.
“For me, I had strong emotions when I took this picture because it’s a young child in distress and I have children myself; as a parent of course it affected me.”
Moore said he does not see, or use, his camera as a shield when covering emotionally taxing moments. He explained that photojournalism has “a higher purpose.
“I see the camera, rather, as a source of strength, because even after all these years in this profession, I believe that photography matters. I believe it can make a positive difference in this world and believing that allows me to work through difficult emotions, in difficult situations,” he said.
Moore has an exhibition of his work at Xposure, which runs until Sunday at Expo Centre.