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Winning photographer ‘pushing photojournalism forward’

Pictures of the Year International announced Noor’s Yuri Kozyrev as the 2011 photographer of the year in the freelance/agency category last week. His winning image shows rebels running for cover on the road between Benghazi and Tripoli as Libyan forces dropped bombs.

“They were just boys curious to be on the frontline. Most didn’t even have weapons,” Kozyrev says of the subjects in the photo, taken last March for TIME magazine. (TIME is owned by CNN’s parent company, Time Warner.)

As the rebels scrambled to find cover in the flat desert, Kozyrev turned to capture this moment (image No. 7).

“It was just a moment I saw, then I tried to find a place to hide,” said the Russian photographer. “I am a human being like anyone else; I can be scared, but it’s all about the moment.”

While Kozyrev never imagined himself covering conflicts across the globe, he’s able to express himself through his photographs, he said. His brother, a journalist, inspired him to begin shooting. He never considered becoming a writer like his brother but found instead that photography was natural for him.

Plus, he added, it allows him to travel and meet new people. On assignments, he stays with locals, which is a “great part of the job,” he said. “You need to be on the ground, staying with people, understanding what they’re going through.”

“There is great heart and clarity in Yuri’s work,” TIME’s director of photography Kira Pollack said in an e-mail. “Yuri’s pictures are cinematic. They are alive. There is a tremendous energy to his frames.” And it sets him apart from other photographers, she said.

Photojournalism is a tough career, between trying to be in the right place at the right time and competing with television to produce fresh scenes. But Kozyrev believes it still holds importance.

“Our job is to remind the people in Paris and New York with cappuccinos that some people are suffering at the same time. … An ordinary person might only spend one and a half seconds looking at the picture, but to get the picture, sometimes people sacrifice their life.”

Kozyrev considers it as an incredible privilege to witness and cover world events. And he does an award-winning job.

“There is a fair amount of photojournalism that goes toward darkness and mood,” TIME’s Pollack said. “Yuri’s pictures do the opposite. … Yuri Kozyrev is an example of a photographer who is pushing photojournalism forward through his signature style.”

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN