Canon Explorer Magnus Wennman was awarded first prize in the People category. He won it for his single shot of a five-year-old Iraqi girl being comforted by her mother in Debaga refugee camp in northeastern Iraq after having fled her home town of Hawija, an IS stronghold, with her family. Here, he tells Canon why the image affected him so deeply.
“I have worked for a long time on this refugee children project, and I have learned quite a lot about the Syrian conflict in the process. I found it a natural approach to focus on children because no matter who you think is right or wrong, the most innocent victims are always the children. You cannot argue with that. And it just felt right for me, as a father myself, to focus on the ones who suffer the most.
“Being a father is a huge part of my life and it means so much. If I didn’t have a child of my own I don’t think I would have done this project in the way that I did. In my view, one of the reasons this project has been so successful is that people can identify with children. They can relate to this situation instantly. It’s not too brutal, it’s easy to look at and everyone can recognise him or herself, or see their own children in the pictures.
“The most important thing throughout the whole project has been respect – to take the time to listen to the families, learn and to make sure the parents are comfortable with me photographing their kids. These images have always been accompanied with text explaining their stories. Sometimes I have worked together with a reporter and sometimes I have worked alone. I don’t feel I do photography, I feel I do journalism.
“The newspaper I work for (Aftonbladet) has supported me every step of the way. The first time we published in the newspaper we only used twelve images and it wasn’t an international story. It wasn’t until six months later that many refugees started to make their way into Europe and it hit the headlines in a big way.
“I am still working on this project; I have become personally connected because I have been working on it for a long time. I don’t think I can ever stop. I have met so many people from Syria and, even now, I continue to be absorbed by their stories. The story keeps developing as the conflict does.”
Maha (5) is comforted by her mother, in Debaga refugee camp in northeastern Iraq. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an TS-E 45mm f/2.8 lens at 45mm; the exposure was 1/400sec at f/2.8, ISO 160.
© Magnus Wennman / Aftonbladet