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Yannis Behrakis: Shooting with the eyes of your soul

Yannis Behrakis
Written by Nikos Papanikolaou

Yannis Behrakis, one of the most respected photographers, has died after a long battle with cancer.

Yannis Behrakis went to places where many can say, God doesn’t exist. The Middle East and Asia, such as the wars and civil conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, the Gulf Wars of 1991 and 2003, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Kurdistan, the changes in Eastern Europe, unrest in Israel and Palestine, and the funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran are some of the major events he photographed through his career.  He narrowly survived an attack on a convoy in Sierra Leone and led a team to a Pulitzer prize in 2016 for coverage of the refugee crisis in Greece.

“I want to be your eyes. I want to be their voice. I want to be the eyes of the world in these places and to show what is happening so that nobody can say, ‘I had no idea.’ I believe we should know about these events, which are not at all pleasant, rather than turning our heads away. These are things that are happening in our lives. We cannot close our eyes to reality,” said in an interview a few years ago.

In 1987 he started working as a contractor for Reuters. His first foreign assignment was in Libya on January 1989. Since then he photographed a variety of significant events including that shaped the latest world history, and his photographs captured the terror of battle, fear, death, love, intimidation, starvation, homelessness, anger, despair and courage.

“My mission is to tell you the story, and then you decide what you want to do. My mission is to make sure that nobody can say: ‘I didn’t know’.” he told a panel discussing Reuters Pulitzer Prize-winning photo series on the European migrant crisis.

He also covered four Olympics, the 1994 World Cup in the United States and many international sports events. He moved with Reuters to Jerusalem as the chief photographer for Israel and the Palestinian Territories in 2008. In 2010 he moved back in Greece to cover the financial and the refugee crisis.

One of his most iconic pictures is showing a Syrian refugee carrying and kissing his daughter as he walked down a road in the rain.

“This picture proves that there are superheroes after all. He doesn’t wear a red cape, but he has a black plastic cape made out of garbage bags. For me this represents the universal father and the unconditional love of father to daughter,” he said.