AP — Photographer Heidi Levine, who has spent 30 years covering war zones and revolutions in the Middle East, Libya and Syria, was named Tuesday as the inaugural winner of an award for courage named for Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus.
The International Women's Media Foundation in Washington announced that Levine, an American based in Israel, will be awarded the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award. Niedringhaus was killed last year on assignment in Afghanistan when an Afghan police commander walked up to the car she was in and opened fire.
The award jury, which includes accomplished photographers and photo editors, said Levine stands out for her courage and compassion in capturing images under dangerous circumstances.
"Her courage and commitment to the story in Gaza is unwavering," the jury wrote. "She documents tragic events under dire circumstances while displaying a depth of compassion for the people she encounters."
Levine said she worked with Niedringhaus in Israel, Gaza and Libya, and they had stayed in touch over the years, making it a bittersweet moment to accept the honor named for her friend.
"It's a completely different feeling," Levine said. "I'm not saying other awards aren't amazing, but I think this one is really, really special. I also feel like I have a responsibility to carry on her legacy."
Covering the war in Gaza last year, Levine witnessed some of the worst conditions she has observed after Israel's bombings, she said. The civilian death toll was stark. Drones flying overhead changed the situation for photographers on the ground and made it unsafe to travel in places where fighting broke out, she said.
Working as a journalist with drones overhead "definitely made you feel like you were always being watched," Levine said.
In Libya, after Tripoli fell in 2011, Levine was there documenting conditions on the ground. She came across a hospital that had been abandoned. Bodies were piled on the ground outside. She and her colleagues drove around, trying to find information, and a man took them to a shed where about 60 men had been burned alive.
"It was just outright atrocity," she said. "I had never seen something like that."
And yet she persists, even as technology makes it even more dangerous for journalists in combat zones as simple Internet searches can help enemies track their work.
"I think it's just so important to bear witness," Levine said. "I just feel compelled to continue."
The award will be presented to Levine at a ceremony June 25 in Berlin. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation provided funding for the $20,000 prize.
"It is encouraging to see Anja's legacy honored through the amazing and courageous work of Heidi Levine, this year's inaugural winner," said Santiago Lyon, director of photography for the AP. "Heidi thoroughly embodies Anja's spirit and courage."
Levine is originally from Boston and moved to Israel in 1983. She began her career with the AP and is now represented by the Sipa Press photo agency. Her photographs have appeared in publications around the world, often as cover stores.
Levine has made a career of working in conflict areas. Beyond covering the revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Syria, she has also captured the stories of Iraqi refugees living in Jordan, Syria and Sweden. She has also worked in Afghanistan, Georgia and India.
Two additional photojournalists received honorable mentions from the jury. Photographer Anastasia Vlasova was recognized for her courage and dedication in covering the conflicts in Eastern Ukraine. Associated Press photographer Rebecca Blackwell also was recognized for her courage in working under difficult conditions in the Central African Republic.
The prize will be awarded annually to a woman photojournalist who reflects the courage and dedication of Niedringhaus.
Niedringhaus started her career as a freelance photographer when she was 16 in her native Germany and went on to cover the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. She joined the AP in 2002 and worked throughout the Middle East, as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She was part of an AP team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for coverage of Iraq.