Yannis Behrakis, an award-winning photographer with Reuters news agency, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 58.
His poignant photos of war, humanitarian crises and civil unrest made him one of the best photojournalists of his generation.
Behrakis, who worked at Reuters for more than 30 years and died on Saturday, was “one of the best photographers of his generation”, Greece’s foreign press association said in a statement on Sunday.
“His pictures shaped the very way in which we perceived events,” it added.
Born in Athens in 1960, Behrakis studied photography at a private school and worked at a studio before fulfilling his lifelong dream to become a photojournalist.
After joining Reuters in 1987, Behrakis covered many of the most tumultuous events around the world, including conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya, a huge earthquake in Kashmir and the Egyptian uprising of 2011. In the process, he won the respect of both peers and rivals for his skill and bravery.
In 2000, he was ambushed in Sierra Leone, likely by rebels, and barely escaped along with Reuters’ co-worker Mark Chisholm. Their Reuters colleague Kurt Schork, Behrakis’ close friend, and AP cameraman Miguel Gil Moreno were killed.
Prestigious awards included the World Press Photo in 2000, Bayeux-Calvados in 2016, and Photographer of the Year by the Guardian in 2015.
He also led a Reuters team to a Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for coverage of Europe’s refugee crisis.
One of his most striking pictures from that period is of a Syrian father carrying and kissing his daughter as he walked towards Greece’s northern border in the rain.
“This picture proves that there are superheroes after all,” Behrakis later explained. “He doesn’t wear a red cape, but he has a black plastic cape made out of rubbish bags. For me, this represents the universal father and the unconditional love of father to daughter.”
Colleagues who worked with him in the field described him as a talented and committed journalist.
“It is about clearly telling the story in the most artistic way possible,” veteran Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic said of Behrakis’ style.
“You won’t see anyone so dedicated and so focused and who sacrificed everything to get the most important picture.”
That dedication was striking. His friend and colleague of 30 years, senior producer Vassilis Triandafyllou, described him as a “hurricane” who worked all hours of the day and night, sometimes at considerable personal risk, to get the image he wanted.
What underpinned everything Behrakis did in his professional life was a determination to show the world what was happening in conflict zones and countries in crisis.
He recognised the power of an arresting image to capture people’s attention and even change their behaviour. That belief produced a body of work that will be remembered long after his passing.
“My mission is to tell you the story and then you decide what you want to do,” he told a panel discussing Reuters Pulitzer Prize-winning photo series on the refugee crisis.
“My mission is to make sure that nobody can say: ‘I didn’t know’.”