Greek AFP photographer Aris Messinis was honored on Saturday, receiving the Visa d’Or for News, the most prestigious award handed out at the Visa Pour L’Image festival in Perpignan, southwestern France.
The 39-year-old photographer was awarded for his coverage of the refugee crisis in Greece, capturing the plight of the masses of migrants fleeing to the Greek islands.
Messinis was so affected personally by the refugees’ ordeal that he participated in their efforts to reach safety. He helped a mother and child clamber out of the sea, carried a baby to safety, even took the body of a child to the morgue. He called all that, “a natural human reflex.”
To tell the sad story of the refugees, Messinis set himself up on the island of Lesvos, the main destination of migrants who make the perilous journey from the nearby Turkish shores. His pictures from Lesvos travelled all over the world.
“I tried to be as close to the people as possible, to feel what they were suffering,” he said. “We try to keep our distance, to be objective. But sometimes it is good to lend a hand to somebody who needs a hand. It is a personal decision.”
Messinis is a father of three girls. He joined Agence France-Presse in 2003 and has been promoted to head of the agency’s photo desk in Athens.
His first major assignment was the war on Libya in 2011, where he recorded the battle for Sirte, days before the death of leader Muammar Gaddafi.
For his courage and coverage of that conflict he was awarded the Bayeux-Calvados war correspondents’ award for photography in 2012.
After Libya, he made the world’s front pages with images from the Syrian civil war and the mass anti-austerity rallies in crisis-stricken Greece.
“Yes, I want to shock you,” Messinis wrote in an AFP blog. “Not only so you can understand what is happening here, something dark and terrible. Perhaps if you are shocked, it will stop.”