By Donald R. Winslow
BARCELONA (April 1, 2014) – "I am a war photographer, and I need to start working again," freelance photojournalist Ricardo García Vilanova told News Photographer magazine today, only two days after he was released by his kidnappers in Syria.
The photojournalist, along with Spanish correspondent Javier Espinosa from El Mundo, were kidnapped by radical Islamist rebels near the Turkish border six months ago. They were trying to leave Syria at the end of a two-week reporting trip when they were seized.
The two men had been held captive in the city of Raqaa, according to The Guardian. Back on September 16, 2013 they were stopped at a checkpoint manned by fighters from Al Qaeda in Iraq and taken into custody, according to El Mundo.
This week García Vilanova and Espinosa were turned over to Turkish officials near Tal Abiyad, and afterwards they crossed over into Turkey. The Spanish government sent a jet for the duo and they were brought back to Torrejon de Ardoz airbase near Madrid where they were reunited with family members. After being examined by doctors at a hospital, García Vilanova said he traveled to his home base in Barcelona last night.
"I am spending time relaxing with my parents and my family," García Vilanova said today on Skype, "and then I need to find work. I need to find assignments. Six months without working, that's not good."
García Vilanova lost all of his Canon camera equipment and laptop and support gear in Syria, and today he told News Photographer magazine that he is basically starting over. "As a freelancer, no one covers me," he said. The photojournalist was in Syria on speculation, not on assignment. "Usually people buy my war photographs afterwards, not before."
The photojournalist said that due to the sensitivity of the situation in Syria, and out of concern for the other hostages, he will not publicly talk about what happened while he was in captivity.
"For freelancers the situation in Syria right now is very, very bad," he said.
Scores of journalists have been kidnapped in Syria by various factions, and media organizations believe that as many as 40 may still be being held. Many of the numbers may also be unreported, as some newspaper and networks have a policy of not publicizing when their journalists have been kidnapped. When García Vilanova and Espinosa were kidnapped, El Mundo said they initially didn't report the news at the request of the men's families.
Friends of the photographer have started an online campaign to raise money for him, to not only help replace cameras but also the income he missed for half a year while being held hostage for 194 days. The "YouCare" campaign organized by Nick Paton Walsh is online here.
García Vilanova is a widely-published and acclaimed war photographer whose work has appeared in the world's major newspapers and magazines. In recent years his conflict photography includes Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. He has also collaborated with humanitarian NGOs such as the International Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and others. He also shoots video, freelancing for CNN, ITN, Reuters TV, Euronews, France24, and MSNBC.