Connecting Advocacy and Imagery: Narciso Contreras

To commemorate Hispanics in Philanthropy’s 33rd year, we honored 33 Latino leaders who inspire as our 2017 HIPGivers. Read HIPGiver Narciso Contreras’s story below.

Narciso Contreras thrives on capturing images of crises that cry out for a humanitarian response. This isn’t the most common place to thrive, but Contreras’ job depends on it. A Pulitzer Prize-winning photo and video journalist, Contreras has covered crises across Asia, Africa and the Middle East since 2010 and has been devoted in capturing the human experience.

His photos are raw, his subjects represent upheavals in some of the most contested centers of conflict across the globe. His eye is keen and his perspective offers more than the typical view of war-torn communities. His lens shines humanity and understanding—it forces one to recognize hypocrisies and complexities.

Born in Mexico City in 1975, Contreras attended the Escuela de Fotografía (Photography Active School) there, as well as at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and National University of Anthropology and History, where he focused on Visual Anthropology, Feature Photography and Philosophy.  

He was clearly preparing for a career like the one he’s built over the years.

What he gives to communities across the world are the faces and stories that many times get buried in the rubble. Beginning with his coverage in Asia, Contreras went to live in a monastery and explore Hinduism and culture in India.

From there, his documentation expanded to places like Myanmar and Yemen, where he covered the forgotten war. His portfolio began to grow, and in 2013 he was one of five Associated Press photographers to share the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for their work in covering the Syrian war.

Contreras understands the power of imagery to the extent that he risks his life for it, and he does so constantly. In an article that he wrote for The Guardian in 2012, he shared the shockingly raw stories of his experience documenting the conflict in Syria.

When you enter Aleppo, you take a big risk; you could be killed or abducted. You find yourself surrounded by explosions, then you look at yourself and realize you are still alive.  

His work has also taken him to Turkey, the Gaza Strip, Egypt, and Libya. In 2016, he received the Carmignac Photojournalism Award for documenting the complex trafficking market that has resulted from the violence and illegal migration in Libya since the fall of the Muammar Gaddafi regime.

As Contreras told Time magazine in 2012, his pictures show “the despair of the current crisis from this side of the conflict—the side that we, as foreign correspondents in Syria, are allowed to cover; the side of the poorest, the most vulnerable, and all those trapped by geography or by circumstances in the areas controlled by the rebel fighters.”

In January, he was in North Africa to capture images of the migrant crisis there. Contreras is on a continuous journey to document, share and bear witness.

I lived and studied at a monastery in India before becoming a conflict photographer, and everything I see now is through the eyes of Krishna,” he wrote in The Guardian. “This is my personal belief. I am just an instrument in this situation.”

Feeling inspired? Read fellow HIPGiver Richard Carranza’s story and let the uplifting vibes continue!