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Photo Makes Somalia’s Famine Front Page News

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
August 7, 2011

New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks has been on the front lines of conflicts throughout the Middle East over the past decade, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Lebanon. This past March, Hicks was captured by Gadhafi loyalists while photographing the revolution in Libya and was held hostage for six days.

Yet Hicks has continued photographing the world’s hot spots. This past month, Hicks went to Somalia to document the ongoing famine and humanitarian crisis.

On Aug. 2, when most U.S. papers ran a front page photograph of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ return to the House, The New York Times went with Hicks’ photo from Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia.

The photograph captured the attention of readers everywhere and helped direct attention to a crisis that had been mostly overlooked by the American press.

Speaking to weekends on All Things Considered guest host David Greene, Hicks says that “this is a story that hasn’t been covered in the way that it should be because of the difficulty of working in Somalia.”

Hicks says that when he was photographing in Mogadishu, he had to travel with armed guards and only had a limited amount of time in each location he photographed.

Much of southern Somalia is controlled by an Islamist militant group with links to al-Qaida called al-Shabaab. The danger that al-Shabaab poses to foreign journalists also complicates the work of aid organizations.

Hicks says al-Shabaab has “been responsible for killing aid workers in the past. And although they’ve now said they would allow some aid to come in, a lot of the aid organizations are reluctant to just go in there and start working.”

Hicks’ wrenching photographs of Banadir Hospital show the dire consequences of this lack of aid. He says the condition of the people in the hospital is one of the worst he has seen in his entire career. That’s from someone who has photographed war zones and natural disasters alike.

“The children were vomiting, their eyes rolling back in their heads,” Hicks says. Some, like the boy in the photograph, “you couldn’t even tell if he was alive until you saw him move — just skin and bone.”

A recent essay on Hicks’ work from Salon.com posed the question of whether a photograph can still change the world. Hicks says that even this digital age, a good still photograph continues to have a unique power.

“It has a way of searing itself into your mind,” he says. “It’s something you can study. It doesn’t just whip by you over your morning coffee.”

Hicks’ photographs from Somalia have that searing quality. They have made the ongoing crisis there impossible to ignore. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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