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The story behind the Venezuelan World Press Photo of 2018

The story behind the Venezuelan World Press Photo of 2018
Copyright © Copyright : Ronaldo Schemidt - AFP
Copyright © Copyright : Ronaldo Schemidt - AFP
By Camille Bello
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Venezuelan photographer Ronaldo Schemidt was covering the anti-government protests in his home country when a motorcycle's petrol tank exploded and a protester next to him caught fire.


Euronews spoke with Ronaldo Schemidt — the AFP photographer behind the Venezuelan picture that won this year’s World Press Photo.

The winners of the prestigious World Press Photo awards were announced on Thursday in Amsterdam. “It’s a classic photo but it has special energy and dynamism. The colours, the movement, and it’s very well framed, it has strength. I had a sudden rush of emotion,” said the World Press Photo jury’s president Magdalena Herrera of this year's winning image, after the prize ceremony in Amsterdam on Thursday.

The man behind the photo, Ronaldo Schemidt, was born in Caracas in 1971, and has been living in Mexico for the past 18 years. As a photographer with the AFP, he’s traveled back to his home country to cover the protests against Nicolás Maduro’s government.

Schemidt snapped the photo, titled “Crisis Venezuela”, on the 3rd of May last year in Caracas, during the wave of violent protests.

What's the story behind the photo?

Schemidt was covering protests with a colleague when clashes between the police and protesters erupted.

“A blinded car then ran over some of the protesters and they responded by throwing Molotov cocktails, which got the police to back up leaving a police motorcycle behind by accident,” Schemidt recalls.

The protesters got control of the motorcycle and started celebrating on top of it when the petrol tank suddenly exploded.

“I felt the heat of the flames on the parts of my body not covered by my anti-bullet vest and helmet: my hands and my arms,” he said.

“[Out of reflex] I started taking pictures with my camera without knowing what was happening around me. I continued shooting at something that I couldn’t make out what it was until I realised it was someone coming out of the flames.”

Schemidt said the subject fell to the ground engulfed in flames and then “other protesters started to extinguish the fire with water and with their hands,” adding that the entire scene probably lasted ten seconds.

According to the AFP, 28-year-old Victor Salazar is the man in the photograph. He survived the accident with second-degree burns.

Schemidt said he wasn’t aware of the photos he had taken until he looked back at them later on.

He said that thinking back on the incident, it was very intense to live through a moment like that: “It was so quick that I didn’t even have time to be scared. If I would’ve stayed even a couple of minutes longer close to the protesters, it could’ve been me in flames. I was next to the motorcycle only a couple minutes before the accident.”

What does it mean for Venezuela that the picture won the World Press Photo 2018?

“The fact that it was even nominated and made public is positive,” said Schemidt.

“It brings back international attention to Venezuela. It’s a reminder that even if there are no more protests, the problem is still there and things are very bad.”

This article was originally published on February 15, 2018, and updated on April 13, 2018, when the winners of World Press Photo 2018 were announced.

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