French war photographer Véronique de Viguerie on Saturday became the first woman in 20 years to win the Visa d’Or, the top prize at the prestigious Visa Pour l’Image International Festival of Photojournalism held annually in Perpignan, France.
The award honoured the 40-year-old veteran photojournalist’s powerful work on the conflict in Yemen. Viguerie’s reportage for Time and Paris Match, entitled “Yemen, The Hidden War”, also collected the International Committee of the Red Cross’s Humanitarian Visa d’Or at a ceremony during the same festival in southwestern France.
Her award-winning photographs highlighted the extraordinary human suffering in a conflict that has already claimed more than 10,000 lives and levied what the United Nations has deemed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The images show Yemenis coping through conflict, buildings in ruin, severely undernourished infants, and children horrifically injured or -- in stark contrast -- bearing weapons of war themselves.
“We realised that civilians felt really trapped and were almost suffering more from this abandonment and isolation than from the air strikes. Every day was a real struggle for the people in Yemen just to survive with Saudi Arabia’s blockade,” she told FRANCE 24. “This sense of entrapment is what we really wanted to get across.”
Viguerie, a native of Carcassonne, in southwestern France, describes herself in her Twitter bio as a “war photo reporter, Afghanistan, mother of two children, blond and not stupid, fearless”. She lived in Afghanistan for three years between 2004 and 2006 and later returned in 2008 for Paris Match, spurring controversy with her photo-reportage on a Taliban commando published just two weeks after it had killed 10 French soldiers.
She becomes only the fifth woman, and the first since France’s Alexandra Boulat in 1998, to claim the coveted Visa d’Or. But as Viguerie told Agence France-Presse, the fact she and her news-writing partner on the reportage were both women had its advantages in Yemen. She wore an abaya with a veil over her face. “We hid all the signs that showed that we were Western women. And since at all the checkpoints, [the fighters] never speak to the women, we didn’t need to talk. It was very practical.”
“Does one need to be a man to do this job? Certainly not. Is it an advantage to be a woman in certain countries like Yemen? Clearly, because we have access to the women and we can hide under an abaya, or a burqa in Afghanistan, and that is very practical,” she told AFP.
“We are the first generation to claim the right to be at once a [photo] reporter and a woman. I am the mother of two little girls,” she added.
Incidentally, Viguerie’s accolade in Perpignan on Saturday spotlighting the ongoing conflict in Yemen came on the same day that long awaited peace talks between the warring parties collapsed in Geneva after Houthi rebels refused to risk leaving Sanaa to attend the UN-backed talks. Analysts say that failure may well lead to an escalation of the conflict in the country.