Acceptance speech by Tim Hetherington

Acceptance speech by Tim Hetherington

A lot of people have asked what this image means to me. It's a question that I've tended to sidestep because it touches on some fairly personal issues. But I thought perhaps I could try and answer it tonight.

For many people, this photograph represents the larger political idea of war. It's said that the man portrayed shows the exhaustion of a nation. Some people see it as propaganda for the war, others as an indictment of the war. But it doesn't need to be either.

For me, this image isn't about a nation or an idea. It's about a young man stuck on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan. His world has become the four dirt walls he dug by hand. A quarter of his platoon has been killed or wounded, and he knows that he may never see his wife again.

The picture is also about how I felt. I lived with these soldiers. I went on patrol with them. I ate their food and slept out on their cots. Like them, I felt exhausted during battle, and laughed when it was all over. I too was terrified at the prospect of being overrun by insurgents.

Making this picture has changed many things for me. It feels that, in winning this prize, the image has been taken from me. Nothing prepared me for such a personal image being scrutinized so publicly. I'm honoured that the photograph is currently a keyhole through which we view the world and our industry.

I accept that it attracts criticism in equal measure. And sometimes I wish that I could have made a better image. I wish, for instance, it could somehow be representative of the years I spent working in West Africa. But it isn't, and I can't change that. Just as I can't hold back the difficult memories and emotions I feel when I look at it.

In turn, I took this image from the soldier pictured. It was a snatched moment, taken as a consequence of my presence. I had no idea what the soldier was thinking or feeling. Later, I felt bad that I'd stolen his image and made it so public. So I asked the soldier, Specialist Brandon Olson what he thought of this picture while I was there last week. He told me that he was proud of it, that his family was proud, that his wife was proud. But he'd also heard that it had been used on placards at an anti-war protest in Nashville, and he wasn't so happy about that.

When he looks at this picture, he also sees something intensely personal. Like me, he lost control of this image. And just as he and I are now intimately connected by this image, we hope that you too, through the process of looking, will also come to be connected. Because for me, the power of this image, lies not in what it represents, but in its ability to connect us, as people.