On Friday, April 13, the World Press Photo exhibition officially kicked off in the Nieuwe Kerk on the Dam in Amsterdam with, at the center of attention, the winner of this year’s World Press Photo of the year, 47-year old Venezuelan photographer Ronaldo Schemidt. His photo features José Victor Salazar Balza, who caught fire because of an exploded motorcycle in the middle of violent clashes between protesters against the ruling President Nicolás Maduro and the police in Caracas, Venezuela. The Amsterdammer interviewed Ronaldo Schemidt about his work as a photographer in Venezuela and his opinion on winning this prestigious award.
Was there ever a moment you thought this photo might be a prize-winning photo?
When I was taking this picture at the time, I was not thinking about the possibility of this picture ever ending up in a contest such as this one. It is something you can not think about when taking pictures in these kinds of situations. In those moments, all you should do is focus on your work.
The jury took into consideration the fact that the man in this picture is wearing some sort of mask, which, according to them, represents the facelessness of the events in Venezuela. It is not just one man burning, the whole country has been set aflame. Is this something you think of when looking at the picture?
No, not at all. The impression I have of this photo is still the same. All I feel when looking at this picture again is compassion for the man in the picture. I still feel sorry for the horrible tragedy he suffered and the indescribable pain he must have gone through. The mask in itself does not add much for me, the fire and the unbearable pain it inflicts attracts all my attention every single time I look at this image. Therefore, I am very glad that I have been able to come into contact with the man in this picture a few days after taking the picture to find out if he is still alive.
How is he doing?
Just after the explosion, he was taken care of by some paramedics, who took him to the hospital. As expected, he has suffered quite a bit from the events of that night. He suffered first and second degree burns all over his body but did luckily survive the fire.
The situation at the riots that night was critical and you had to put yourself in danger to take this picture. Would you consider this a regular part of the job?
I acknowledge that I sometimes find myself in dangerous situations, but this only usually happens after the fact when I am reviewing the pictures I took. In the heat of the moment, I just want to do my job as a news photographer as good as possible. I still feel the same way about this and will want to continue to do work as a photographer in Venezuela, I just don’t know if Maduro’s government will let me.