Emilio Morenatti was a reluctant visitor to L.A. last month, here to accept his award as Pictures of the Year International’s 2009 Newspaper Photographer of the Year. The Spanish-born photojournalist was uncomfortable being away from his post in Pakistan. “You want to be everywhere that things are happening,” he told L.A. Weekly. “Anything can happen, and I don’t want to miss it.”
This week, Morenatti, 40, was one of two Associated Press journalists (along with two U.S. soldiers) seriously injured in Afghanistan when their vehicle ran over a bomb planted in the open desert. He lost his left foot in the explosion, and was flown to a hospital in Dubai. He is another frontline casualty of one of the world’s most dangerous professions.
“The possibility of something like that happening is always at least in the back of your mind,” says Getty Images photographer John Moore, who was present at the 2007 assassination in Pakistan of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and barely escaped injury in that explosion. “A number of conflict photographers are close friends, and I always knew something like this would happen to one of us. It could have been me. All of us who are his friends are happy he’s alive.”
In 2006, Morenatti was kidnapped and held for 16 hours in Gaza City, but after his release, his work in the war zones of the Middle East and Central Asia continued, with images that could be subtle or horrific, powerfully moving and elegantly composed.
Dubai-based photographer Balazs Gardi first met Morenatti in Pakistan this May, and they spent “a great time” together in L.A. at the Pictures of the Year International event, held at the Annenberg Space for Photography, where Gardi was given the World Understanding Award. He’s been in touch with Morenatti’s wife, photographer Marta Ramoneda. She and Morenatti were married in Jerusalem before moving to Pakistan last year.
“She told me that he is aware of the situation and he is very strong,” Gardi writes via e-mail. He fully expects to see Morenatti back in action. “He is very committed to his profession. I am pretty sure this passion will help him over these hard times.”
On Monday, Morenatti began treatment at a Baltimore hospital. “He is recovering well and is in good spirits,” AP spokesman Jack Stokes announced. “We’ll know more about the next steps in his recuperation later this week.”
Injured in the same improvised–explosive device blast was AP videographer Andi Jatmiko, who, recovering from broken ribs and leg wounds, returned home this week to Jakarta, Indonesia.
The IED explosions that once marked the war in Iraq with devastating losses to occupying soldiers have largely migrated to Afghanistan and now account for a majority of U.S. and NATO troop deaths. With this week’s Afghan presidential election already beset by violence, and as the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban intensifies, the number of frontline journalists caught in the crossfire can only rise.