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Last Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005, 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK
Picture power: Afghan burial
The World Press Photo foundation celebrates the 50th anniversary of its annual photographic competition this year.

In the fourth of five pieces by photographers talking about their award-winning work, Erik Refner describes how he captured the moving image of a one-year-old refugee from Afghanistan being prepared for burial in 2001.

Erik Refner's winning photo

The child's family, originally from northern Afghanistan, had sought refuge from the political situation and the drought afflicting the country.

Roger Hutchings, chairman of the World Press Photo jury, wrote of Refner's picture: "The picture he made reached out to us. It is simple, iconic and symbolic. It points towards matters which need to be addressed and, with the benefit of hindsight, it reproaches us for having ignored Afghanistan since the end of the Cold War. It also reminds us what a photographer is."

In 2001, I was working as an intern at the Danish newspaper, the Berlingske Tidende. At the time, there was almost nothing about the Afghan refugees, although it was one of the biggest refugee problems in the world.

I went to my editor with a proposal to cover the situation and he accepted it.

I went to a refugee camp close to Peshawar, near the Afghan border. There were around 90,000 refugees there, partly because of the political situation and partly because of the drought in the northern part of the country.

The child looks like he has a little smile around his mouth as - if he has finally gone to a better place
I had been in the camp for about two weeks. I wasn't allowed to stay there at night, so I had told my translator to keep his eyes and ears open. One morning he told me about a family he knew, whose one-year-old boy had died in the camp.

The family had been to the Medecins Sans Frontieres tent to collect a white shroud and a tombstone.

We went into the tent where the male members of the family had started to prepare the child's body for burial. I briefly paid my condolences to the father, than I asked him if it was OK for me to take the pictures.


According to tradition, it is the men who prepare the body. In this case, it was the child's father, his brother and an imam. Those are the arms that you can see in the picture.

Everything happened very quickly - the ceremony took around 10 minutes. I was sitting on the ground shooting pictures and then taking them from above.

I have always tried to portray the innocent people caught up in the conflict, I don't do this hard-core news journalism
It was a difficult situation - there was a lot of sadness. I could hear the women crying in another tent. I was trying not to intrude in anyone's grief.

Then, everyone went outside and the men carried the body about 2km (1.2 miles) to a graveyard outside the camp.

The judges described the picture as symbolic and iconic. I still get a lot of response from the picture - when you've seen it you won't forget it. It's very simple and very powerful.

There is the strong contrast between the white cloth and the dark arms. The child looks like he has a little smile around his mouth - as if he has finally gone to a better place.

Then there is the fact that it is old people burying a young child - it should be the other way around. There is a lot of symbolism in that picture. All these things make it very powerful.

I have always tried to portray the innocent people caught up in the conflict, I don't do this hard-core news journalism. I would rather shoot the ones who are affected by a crisis. I have also done projects in Congo and Sudan.

I knew the moment I took it, it was a good picture. I kind of remembered the picture at the time, but when I got back home I saw it I thought it was even more powerful than I had remembered.

The picture was published a few weeks after it was taken, as part of a photo essay.

In terms of other parts of the world where I would like to go, I think Chechnya doesn't appear to have the interest of the media. Of course, it's a very difficult place, but I think it's an important story and I would like to tell it.

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