My friend Anja died today. She was shot by a man in police uniform while covering the elections in Afghanistan with AP’s Kathy Gannon, who survived.
The news of her death has yet to sink in. But over the past hours my head has been awash with memories of Anja that I’d like to share.
We met seven years ago, a few months after I’d started working as a correspondent in AP’s Geneva bureau. Anja burst into the office in her characteristic way, booming “JA, JA, JA” before anyone had a chance to ask her anything, and laughed her infectious laugh.
Anja was fun. Everyone who knows her will tell you that. But she took her work very seriously. There’s almost no war zone she didn’t travel to over the past twenty years, going back in again even after being injured or escaping grave danger.
But as her friend Thomas Wiegold notes, Anja wasn’t a “war photographer.” She hated the term and preferred to be known as just a photographer or reporter.
And what a reporter. Brad Klapper, another former colleague of Anja’s in Geneva, says she could “spot bullshit a mile away. You knew you were a halfway decent journalist if you had her respect. ”
And if you had her respect, she’d fiercely fight your corner. Anja mentored a number of fine young photographers, and was instrumental in securing the release of Bilal Hussein from U.S. detention. She followed up by helping him regain his footing in Beirut, just as she tracked down a wounded U.S. marine she’d once photographed in Afghanistan, leading to one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read.
It was this instinctive respect for others that Anja exuded which helped her get stories _ and visas _ that nobody else could get. Kathy and she made a formidable team that ventured far off the beaten track most reporters stayed on in Afghanistan and the Pakistani border regions. Few others had the guts and brains to do what they did.
That’s not to say she was fearless. She once told me that the day she stopped being afraid was the day she’d hang up her camera and stop being a journalist.
But despite being run over by a car, shot at by snipers, surviving explosions and aerial bombings, a close call with a tank, receiving a shrapnel injury and having the military vehicle she was traveling in hit by an IED, Anja kept going back out. She loved her work, and we should be grateful for that because otherwise we wouldn’t know about many of the things _ good and bad _ that happen in the world.
It’s not hard to see how someone like Anja would be heaped with prizes, including the Pulitzer. She never took her success for granted though. Each time I spotted one of her pictures in the paper and emailed it to her she’d be delighted as if it was her first.
And apart from talking heads at news conferences, there was nothing Anja didn’t enjoy covering. One of the most fun stories I reported on with Anja involved a cow fighting contest up a Swiss mountain.
Anja was loved and respected by everyone who knew her, especially her fellow journalists. I’ll miss the hour-long phone calls with her, laughing about the absurdity of the news business or the world in general, updating each other on how her niece and our daughters were doing, talking about stories we planned to cover one day.
I’ll miss the wine-soaked fondue at Cafe Bon Vin in Eaux Vives, around the corner from the apartment she loved so much (but sadly had to leave). I’ll miss her unquestioning generosity, such as the time she took us in for the night after we’d had a run-in with a violent neighbor.
Anja’s candle burned brightly, as they say, and it gave off a wonderful light and warmth.
It was a privilege to be your friend and colleague.