Agence France-Presse photographer Ronaldo Schemidt won the prestigious 2018 World Press Photo of the Year Award this week with his fiery image of a masked Venezuelan protester which judges said symbolised a country “burning.”
Schemidt’s photo, taken during violent clashes with riot police and protesters demonstrating against President Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Caracas last year, invoked an instant emotion, the judges added.
Mexico-based Schemidt was covering the demonstrations for AFP in May 2017 when the then 28-year-old Víctor Salazar went up in flames as he and other protestors were trying to destroy a police motorbike and the gas tank exploded in his face.
“I felt the explosion behind me and I felt the heat and at that moment I turned around, already shooting, but without seeing what was going on,” Schemidt said. “Then I heard the screams, and that’s when I realised what it was.”
His searing image shows Salazar – who is wearing a mask – running as a cloak of fire envelopes his body. He survived the incident with first and seconddegree burns.
For the chair of the jury, Magdalena Herrera, Geo France’s director of photography, it is “a classical photo” which has “an instantaneous energy and dynamic.” It has “colours, movement and is very well composed. It has strength. I got an instantaneous emotion,” she said.
Thursday’s prize is a bittersweet recognition for Schemidt, 46, who is Venezuelan himself, even though he left the country 18 years ago. His own family has been caught up in the hunger, hyperinflation and shortages that sparked the protests – four months of street battles that left 125 people dead.
Accepting his award, Schemidt said he dedicated to photo “to his family and all the people of Venezuela.”
Schemidt spent two months documenting protests. But the defining image of his time in Caracas unfolded in about 10 seconds. He did not realise it at the time, but in one of his pictures he had captured Salazar, trailing flames, running just in front of a wall spray-painted with a graffiti gun firing the word “peace” from its barrel – the shot that won the prize.