“I think it’s the highest honor I’ve ever experienced in my career,” says American photographer Heidi Levine, the first recipient of the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award. “Yet, at the same time, I really feel heartbroken because of the circumstances in which this award was created.”
Niedringhaus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press (AP) photographer died a year ago when she and her AP colleague Kathy Gannon were shot by a uniformed Afghan police officer in Khost Province, Afghanistan. The International Women’s Media Foundation launched the award to honor Niedringhaus’ courage and dedication.
Levine was selected for her work covering last year’s conflict in Gaza, the most recent set of images she’s produced about the enclave since moving to the Middle East in 1983.“I’ve [always felt] this calling to bear witness,” she tells TIME. “I know that most people don’t understand why we do what we do; why we run forward when everyone else is fleeing; why we’re compelled to do this. And this award will help me continue to believe in what I’m doing and not give up.”
For the judges, who included TIME’s director of photography Kira Pollack, AP’s vice president Santiago Lyon and Michele McNally of the New York Times, Levine’s work showed that her “courage and commitment to the story” were unwavering. “She documents tragic events under dire circumstances while displaying a depth of compassion for the people she encounters,” the jury said in a statement.
Levin will receive her award, as well as a $20,000 cash prize, at a ceremony in Berlin on June 25.
The jury also gave honorable mentions to photographers Anastasia Vlasova and Rebecca Blackwell for their work in Ukraine and Central African Republic, respectively.