Interviewed by Raghda Gamal
For the National Yemen
Samuel Aranda, a freelance Spanish photographer, started to work as a photographer at 19. Then, at 21 he traveled to the Middle East to cover the Palestinian – Israeli conflict and multiple conflicts in Pakistan, Lebanon, and Iraq for twelve years. Throughout the past year Aranda covered the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Aranda arrived in Yemen in mid-October on assignment for The New York Times. His work in Yemen received recognition as he won the 55th annual World Press Photo Contest — universally recognized as the world’s leading international contest for photojournalists. The jury choose Aranda’ photo of a picture shows a woman holding her wounded son in her arms, inside the field hospital during demonstrators against the rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh on October 15, 2011.
National Yemen (N.Y): Would you tell me about your first visit to Yemen?
Samuel Aranda (S.A): I remember when I first saw the assignment from The New York Times to go to Yemen. I used to work in the Arab world for over twelve years; therefore, I was expecting something like Iraq or Afghanistan. However, when I arrived in Yemen I was initially scared but the people were so nice.
N.Y: How did you start working in Yemen the first time you came here?
S.A: The first week I went to the Change Square without my camera because I had to move from a lot of check points and I wasn’t sure that if any one going to check my bag. So, I just went to see what is going on. Then, I met one man on a motorcycle and could speak English, he took me on a tour and when we arrived at Change Square I discovered how nice the people there were.
N.Y: What do you think about the Yemeni Revolution, and the Yemeni youth?
S.A: The Yemenis are amazing; I think the Yemenis are the nicest people I met so far.
The revolution went well during its first few days. But, now everybody wants to individually benefit from it and I don’t like this. This is a huge problem.
N.Y: You covered the Palestinian – Israeli conflict and multiple conflicts in Pakistan, Lebanon, Iraq. Would you tell me about this huge experience in this field?
S.A: I started as a photographer when I was 19. I first went to Gaza because I was very curious about what was happening there. After that I found myself in Lebanon, Pakistan and in other places throughout the world. It wasn’t planned but I love the Arab world and I got stuck there for the last 12 years.
N.Y: With your extensive experience in covering conflicts, did you experience different feelings in covering the Yemeni Revolution?
S.A: It’s a big difference even if you compare it to other Arab Spring countries. For example, when I went to Libya it was a civil war. But, in Yemen the people were nice and did not want to start a civil war. Of course it was sad what happened, but at least it wasn’t a war.
I saw people from Change Square, met with people like Saleh, and they were very respectful with each other. Even inside the Change Square you can see Houthis and Islahies respecting each other. I am aware that they have a lot of problems with each other but its nothing like civil war.
N.Y: How did you participate in the World Press Photo 2011?
S.A: The World Press Photo is one of the most important contests in the world. It was the New York Times who sent my photos to the contest.
I think that the jury chose Al-Qawas family’ photo because they see something different in it — especially with the women in her niqab holding her wounded son. This created an intimate photo.
N.Y: How did you feel when you took the photo of Al-Qawas family?
S.A: It was horrible. It was my second day at the Change Square. At that day around 12 people were killed; it was a very sad day. When I came into the field hospital that day, everyone was running around, except that woman; she was very calm and strong.
N.Y: Did you see them after you won?
S.A: Yes, they invited me to their house last week. It was amazing experience, they are very nice people and they were very happy.
N.Y: This is not the first time you won a photography contest. You previously won the Spanish National Award of Photography, correct? Would you tell me your feeling this time and how it is different than your first wining?
S.A: For me, it is not really important to win award – although it’s good for my record – the most important thing is the cause itself. Because of my picture, a lot more people were talking about Yemen.
N.Y: Did you expect to win?
S.A: No, absolutely not. Especially this award because it’s well known how hard it is to win the World Press Photo and it gets harder every year.
N.Y: One of the comments about your winning photo was that it showed the role that women played, not only as care-givers, but as active people in the movement. Would you tell me about your opinion of Yemeni women. Was she as you expected her to be?
S.A: When I was in Europe I believed that women in Arab world are oppressed. However, when I was at a friend’s house in Yemen I discovered that women are the real bosses of the house — like every other country. In the West we know that people in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt are open-minded but we’re used to having a bad image of Yemeni people. Yemen was really in the same box with Somali and Afghanistan with the Al-Qaeda thing. So, I was expecting something worse than what I saw. I would never expect to sit in meeting like this one right now. Yemeni women proved that they are really active and I believe that the situation will become better in Yemen if it has a female president.
N.Y: You will receive the award during the Awards Ceremony in Amsterdam on April 21. What are you going to say about the Yemeni Revolution that day?
S.A: I want to give you an exclusive look into what I’m going to do: I’m going to wear a T-shirt with a phrase of the importance of seeing Yemen. I’m going to do this because I believe that the main resource of Yemen is its tourism sector. You know, all my friends were always asking me if I was ok in Yemen, did I feel safe? And I would always tell them that I felt great and that I don’t want to go back to Yemen: It’s an amazing country.