Abd’s approach is sympathetic, kind and thoughtful. The way he connects with people in his photo making defines his work — and it appeals to me, too.
And now I am drawn into Abd’s philosophy: Look deeper. Think beyond the immediacy of the “bang, bang.”
Although they are not perfectly composed, don’t have the magical light that we seek or show peak action, the incongruity in some of Abd’s images forces you to stop in your tracks and ask: What is happening?
Here in some Latin American countries, residents go about their ordinary lives amid violence fueled by social inequality.
So it was just another day in the neighborhood when Abd arrived at a crime scene, four or five blocks from his Guatemala City home, where a security guard had been shot dead outside the guard’s place of work at a gym.
Inside the gym, (above) regulars continued their workout routines as if nothing were amiss.
But Abd doesn’t judge. Instead, he works to understand the consequences of the country’s violence. He documents the will of beleaguered people who go on living, with the hope that we will engage beyond the surface of his photographs.
Abd has been a staff photographer for The Associated Press since 2003, following four years with La Razón and La Nación newspapers in Buenos Aires.
Over the years, he has worked all over the world, including Syria, Afghanistan and Haiti. But he says his deepest connection is to Latin America, where he has been based in Guatemala City and Lima, Peru. His assignments have taken him to countries such as Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.
Along the way, he has been honored with many prestigious awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, World Press, Overseas Press Club, Maria Moors Cabot Prize, Best of Photojournalism, POYi, POYi Latino America and the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar.
Most recently, Abd has been documenting how COVID-19 has ravaged Peru, working inside hospitals and crematories showing the world the human tragedies caused by the pandemic.
Abd arrived in 2003 in Guatemala, a country grappling with the legacy of a long and bloody civil war that saw citizens abducted, tortured, killed and buried in mass graves. According to a U.N. Truth Commission, about 200,000 people were killed and 40,000 others were “disappeared” during Guatemala’s 1960-96 civil war.
Because so many Guatemalans are still seeking justice for loved ones who were “disappeared,” Abd spent a good amount of time covering the exhumations of people who were massacred.
The photo he made of forensic anthropologists having lunch alongside a grave (above) alarmed the administrators who gave him access. One asked, “How can you show us like this?” They worried that people would consider them disrespectful of the dead.
But Abd disagreed and explained to them that it shows the forensic anthropologists as hardworking and compassionate people, engaged in honorable work. These workers are comfortable among the dead. It’s their work, their office, their daily life.
One of my personal favorites by Abd involved more anthropologists and another exhumation.
After searching for a colleague who’d gone missing while looking for a mass grave site deep in the Peruvian Andes, they feared he was dead but found him collapsed. The group’s anxiety turned to laughter as they looked at their colleague lying face-up on the forest floor (below) and observed that he had never let go of the chicken he’d brought along to cook for supper. That evening, Abd and the anthropologists with family members of the “disappeared” who were working as guides enjoyed a nice chicken soup cooked over a campfire. I’ll bet chicken never tasted so good.
Anita Baca is a photo editor for The Associated Press and is based in Mexico City. She can be reached at [email protected]. Baca will write an occasional photo column for News Photographer about Latin American photographers.
Rodrigo Abd, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his coverage of the Syrian war, joined The Associated Press in 2003. He is currently based in Buenos Aires. Follow his work on Instagram.