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'Sitting in an office eight hours a day is crazy'

George Mills · 18 Apr 2013, 18:05

Published: 18 Apr 2013 18:05 GMT+02:00

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So who is Manu Brabo?

Manu Brabo — or Manuel Varela de Seijasto to give him his full name — is a freelance photojournalist.

"Photography is, for me, above all, an excuse to experience things first hand," he says of his work.

"I take photos for my mother and people like her so they can understand what's happening 3,000 km  from their house.

Born in Zaragoza, he studied photography in Oviedo and now lives in Gijón.

He has worked in 'difficult' countries including Haiti, Kosovo and Syria where he has covered  the pointy end of politics.

His focus is on everything from army coups to uprisings and revolutions.

Why is he The Local’s Spanish Face of the Week?

Brabo has won many awards for his work before, but this week he received a special accolade.

On Tuesday, the journalist — along with four of his colleagues at the news agency AP — was given a Pulitzer Prize in the Breaking News Photography category.

The award — journalism’s most prestigious — was given to the group for their work in covering the civil war in Syria.

“At first I thought it was a joke,” said Brabo on hearing he’d won the Pulitzer.

“But when I found out it wasn't, I couldn't believe it. I felt shock, delight — many emotions at the same time,” he told news site La Nueva España.

The response within Spain to the news of Brabo’s prize was incredibly positive: no less a figure than Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy congratulated him.

“This outstanding international award recognizes your talent for bringing us closer to reality,” said Rajoy.

“It confirms the evocative and reflexive capacity of your past work to highlight and help us understand current affairs,” added the Spanish leader.

Brabo was keen, however, to put his work in perspective.

He told La Nueva España that the prize was for “the informative value of the images,” and not for bravery of photojournalists.

The body of a Syrian soldier lies on the ground after heavy clashes in Tal Sheer (Syria) December 2012. Photo: FreedomHouse

How did he make a name for himself?

In April 2011, the photojournalist and four of his colleagues were kidnapped in Libya by pro-Gaddafi forces.

The imprisonment lasted just over six week until he was eventually released on May 5th.

During the 43 days of his detention, public support in Spain was overwhelming.

A group known as FreeManuBraboOutOfLibya campaigned for his release, even organizing a protest of some 500 people outside the offices of Spain’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Members of the Real Oviedo and Sporting Gijón football teams also came onto the pitch during the journalist’s imprisonment wearing kit bearing Brabo's name.

“You don’t lose hope,” said Brabo in a press conference just after his release.

“That’s something I told myself early on. Otherwise you end up a 'nothing' in a cell.”

Speaking about being taken hostage, he said: “We messed up. We went too far. There was a counter attack by Gaddafi’s forces. We were in the front line and the rebels ran off and left us there.”

“I remember all the people who were involved in getting me back to work again,” Brabo later told La Nueva España.

“My family was part of that group that gave it their all so that I could continue working”.

What is his most famous photo?

Perhaps Brabo’s most famous image shows a man holding a child with a missing arm. The man is obviously distraught.

“On October 3rd (2012) we were in the hospital and suddenly we saw someone holding the body of a badly injured child,” Brabo told Spanish news site Te Interesa.

Story continues below…

“A father was holding a child in his arms” the photojournalist continued.

“The boy was no longer alive. His arms gave it away. The man, his father, could only do one thing: he went out onto the street and knelt down.”

Has Brabo been scarred by his experiences?

He says he has seen a lot of terrible things.

“However, one of the worst days — one of the most fucked that I have ever lived through — was October 4th (last year).”

On that day Syrian forces bombed a school in Aleppo where 200 families were living.

“Those days make you rethink what it means to be human,” Brabo told La Nueva España.”

“I don’t know if these images have made me crazy: you´ll have to leave that to a psychiatrist to decide, he said.

“But I consider someone who sits in an office for eight hours to be crazy,” he told the site.

A Free Syria Army fighter, severely injured during fighting with government forces, on his way to Kilis Hospital in Turkey. Photo: FreedomHouse 

George Mills (george.mills@thelocal.com)

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