Earlier this month, Antonio Denti of Italy was announced as the Grand Prize winner and Photographer of the Year of the 15th annual iPhone Photography Awards (IPPAWARDS). His winning photo, titled “The Kid of Mosul,” was taken with an iPhone 11 in Mosul, Iraq. Fast-forward to recent times, Denti shared with us his thoughts on the compelling scene he captured — a moment of tenderness between a young boy and a soldier against the ravages of war.
As a long-time cameraman for global news agency Reuters, Denti is no stranger to visual storytelling. His work has allowed him to witness and cover many important events around the world. His assignments varied from “conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Gaza, the start of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, the death and election of Popes at the Vatican, the huge migration crisis in the Central Mediterranean at sea.”
This inclination for visual stories, he also noted, aligns to the values and principles that he loves and finds important. For example, he describes his work “intruding in the lives of others” with a camera. To him, it means partly sharing “some intimate details of their real life — including the dangers, the sadness and the happiness.” As such, he takes it upon himself to be clear with his intentions and retain objectivity — “to never judge them, help them or damage them.”
“This is because I think what happens to humans is significant to all of us. To try and tell it at the best of our always limited skills is a way to celebrate humanity on this stormy but beautiful planet,” he added.
A poignant moment in war-torn Mosul
While he was on assignment in Iraq covering Pope Francis’ historic pilgrimage, the winning shot presented itself to Denti rather unexpectedly. As with many powerful photos like it, he had to be quick to capture the poignant moment as it happened.
“I had just been filming the Pope doing a silent prayer inside a bombed church, which had been very powerful. Then, we went inside our media buses, waiting on the side of the main road for the Pope’s convoy to pass. While waiting, I saw the kid approach our convoy, curious. The Iraqi soldier — one of the platoon guarding our vehicles — was standing about 50 meters from him. As it happens with photography, although I could not see the soldier’s face, I sensed something had drawn his attention to the kid…. At the same time, I also felt I would not have the time to ask permission to get off the van. If I did, I would risk missing whatever could happen.”
“So I moved to the van’s window and got my iPhone out. All this happened very quickly… It was just a feeling. Almost immediately, the soldier walked to the kid. I don’t know what he told him or if they spoke at all, as I was behind glass. Then, very briefly, he reached for the kid’s face. Click. I felt there was a lot in that brief instant. A man connecting with the kid he had once been. A kid watching the man he would become. The wars fought by one, the wars waiting for the other.”
The photo also moved him in other ways. First, as a father to an 8-year-old, he senses a growing gap between his generation and that of his son. Second, sharing it on social media enabled him to get valuable feedback straight from someone who was once in the front lines of war.
“We are a strange generation of fathers. I feel we are less sure about what to teach our kids. The world seems to be changing so fast and into something more unstable and dangerous than when we were kids. The handover between me and him, and between my generation and his, is one of my deepest concerns. This picture touched at the heart of this relationship between two generations.
“Also, when I first posted this picture on Instagram, a dear friend’s father who fought in a war wrote to me, ‘As an ex-soldier, this picture is very special and very moving to me.’ To me, it’s one of the most significant comments to a picture that I ever took. I treasure that because war, ultimately, is something that only those who have actively experienced can really know something about.”
Denti described his relationship with mobile photography as “one that started off with rejection and ended up with ‘The Kid of Mosul’ being awarded at the IPPAWARDS.” As a someone who grew up with and developed a passion for photography the traditional way, it’s not surprising that he felt at odds even with the average person who took photos with the latest smartphones.
“Initially, I was frustrated. I regarded mastery of photography as an earned achievement. Now, these machines did everything for you. All people needed to do was to push a button. As mobiles started making photos and videos, I suddenly found myself competing with hundreds of passers-by who sometimes got better pictures than I did.”
But, in time, his views took a complete turn. He realized that smartphones have an incredible, decisive advantage in documenting real life. Because it’s normal to have them around, he finds that they almost never alter the reality that photographers now capture on the daily.
”You always have them with you. You can capture the most incredible moments, gestures, faces, light that life is made of, in situations where it was unthinkable to have a camera,” he added. “I still love cameras and appreciate the difference. But, ultimately I totally agree with Sir Don McCullin when he said that to him, a camera is like a toothbrush: it needs to do the job. Tools are tools. The vision you have should use them all.”
Make sure to follow Antonio Denti on Instagram to see more of his impressive and inspiring photography.
Photo by Antonio Denti courtesy of IPPAWARDs.