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Joao Silva: Photojournalist Wounded in Afghanistan

written by Holly Pickett
on October 26, 2010

Joao Silva.

To people outside the world of photojournalism, the name may not mean much. While millions of people have seen and been moved by his images, they likely don't know who he is.

Among photojournalists, Joao Silva is known as the kindest, most unassuming of living legends. A contract photographer for The New York Times, he has covered the world's conflicts with courage, humanity and care for the past 20 years. He is the best kind of colleague — generous, humble and honest — and a mentor to young photographers, like me, new to the world of conflict photography. Joao has earned the respect of his peers not only because of his talent, but also because of the kind of person he is. A friend to many, he is also married and a father to two small children.

Joao was severely injured on Saturday while on assignment for The New York Times in Afghanistan. He stepped on a mine in Kandahar province while embedded with U.S. troops. He received medical attention immediately and later at Kandahar Air Field, before being transferred to Germany, where he is now in a military hospital.

See The New York Times' report of the incident here.

Additional information is here, on The Times' photography blog, Lens.

I met Joao for the first time in April of this year, when I arrived at The New York Times' Baghdad Bureau to replace him as the bureau photographer. (The Times rotates photographers in and out, two months at a time.) It was my first visit to Iraq, and I was nervous. Although he had already been there nine weeks straight, he stayed an additional week to make sure I was settled and up to speed.

An old hand in Iraq, Joao instantly put me at ease with his friendly, laid-back attitude. We discussed the difficulties of working in Baghdad, and he gave me what advice he'd gleaned over the past few years working there. I watched the nightly ping-pong tournaments and chess battles he played with the bureau chief and listened to him tutor Portuguese during cigarette breaks on the back porch. He had had enough of Sadr City and Iraq's political "nonsense" for the time being, and he looked forward to going home to his wife and family in South Africa.

Recently in Kabul, just before he embedded, Joao came over to hang out in the garden behind the house where I was staying. Wearing an Incredible Hulk t-shirt and jeans, he greeted me warmly with a hug. Over a bottle of wine, he told me that he wanted to turn his focus to Afghanistan, a country he's been covering for more than a decade. He shrugged his shoulders about the unpredictability of his upcoming embed but seemed eager to "get on with it," as he put it. He brainstormed story ideas with me and, as always, encouraged me to press on with the subjects close to my heart.

Since hearing of Joao's injury, I've been thinking a lot. I am thankful he is alive. He still has children to raise, friends to ride motorcycles with, and lots of pictures to take. He has a difficult journey ahead of him, but I know he will meet it bravely and with great spirit.

I have also been thinking about my chosen career. Although soldiers are dying and being severely injured everyday, this one hits close to home for those of us who work alongside them. It is a stark reminder of the risks we take while covering the human cost of war. It is proof that none of us are invincible, not even those icons whom we look up to, those professionals who have years of experience under their belts. It is a testament to the courage of all those who, despite the danger, do what they believe in.

(A fund has been established for Joao Silva and his family. For more information, click here.)

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