Time Portrait of Afghan Woman Wins Photo of the Year
South African photographer Jodi Bieber has won the World Press Photo of the Year for her photo of Bibi Aisha, the 18-year-old Afghan woman who was mutilated by her husband by order of the Taliban. Aisha's photo appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in August 2010, igniting controversy.
Many felt that the photo courageously confronted who the Taliban really are and what the consequences of another western abandonment of Afghanistan may look like, with its headline, "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan". The same headline infuriated stoppists, who accused the magazine of "emotional blackmail," and coined rather ridiculous terms such as "mutilation chic".
The portrait is unique in that it communicates the story of Bibi Aisha's horrific experience with great dignity; she appears as a survivor, rather than a helpless victim. Bieber managed to capture an expression of pride, resolve and a grave stare that implored viewers to acknowledgeme the crime that Aisha had endured, and not to turn away. As Terry Glavin pointed out,
Lost in all the self-serving and cowardly Code Pinkish yesbuttery and the handwringing about the propriety of a major magazine running a photograph so shocking - can we not at least stop for a moment to notice that Aisha, in the full flower of womanhood, is unspeakably beautiful in spite of her disfigurement? - is the fact that she wants the world to see her face. By her own account, she wants the world to see what the Taliban's resurgence means to Afghan women, and to see the obvious implications of the "negotiated" solution to the Afghan struggle that is so de rigueur in bourgeois-left circles in the rich countries of the world.
The jurors agreed. One of the World Press jurors, Ruth Eichhorn, said,
It's an incredibly strong image. It sends out an enormously powerful message to the world, about the 50% of the population that are women, so many of whom still live in miserable conditions, suffering violence. It is strong because the woman looks so dignified, iconic.
Since Bibi Aisha's image first commanded the world's attention, she has reportedly made remarkable progress. As she struggles to overcome the abuse she experienced as a childbride in rural Afghanistan, she also prepares for reconstructive surgery in the US, to rebuild her nose and ears. In the meantime, she uses a prosthetic nose. Illiterate in her own language when she first came to Women for Afghan Women's shelter in Kabul, she is now learning English. She makes beaded jewelry, and her confidence grows daily. A future of potential lies ahead.
Time Magazine made a bold and honest move with their August 9, 2010 cover, and Bieber's recognition by World Press Photo is a well deserved accolade. It's not very often that the question gets asked, "what happens to the women?" This time, it was.
Lauryn Oates is a Contributing Writer for The Propagandist.