Andy Spyra – Kashmir, Newcomer 2010
The Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award, granted for the second time in 2010, was received by the German photographer Andy Spyra for his reportage on Kashmir. For the photographer, Kashmir has one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes; but the Himalayan region has also been a battlefield for decades. With his subjective and empathetic gaze, Spyra focuses his black and white series on the consequences of the conflict between India and Pakistan, for the people living there.
The border region of Kashmir is one of the world’s most intensely militarised zones, and has suffered from the territorial conflicts between India and Pakistan for many years. Squeezed as Kashmir is between two nuclear powers and arch-enemies, it is of course the civilian population who suffers most: women are raped and murdered; men disappear without trace or are arrested at one of the numerous demonstrations against the military presence in the region. The Kashmir conflict has already claimed over 60 000 victims, and the entire region is in a state of trauma. Furthermore, it is primarily the conflict within the population that is responsible for further unrest.
“I first came to Kashmir in early spring 2007 and just fell in love with the region, the people, the light and the atmosphere of this remote place.”
Instead of travelling through Nepal by motorcycle as originally planned, Spyra sold his motorcycle and took a train to Srinagar, summer capital of the Indian part of Kashmir. Since that first visit, he has returned three times, staying a few weeks on each occasion. Spending time wandering through Kashmir, he got to know the country, letting himself drift during his visits, inspired by the extremes that shape both life and landscape.
“I deal with photojournalistic topics and thereby consciously distance myself from the visual boundaries associated with this type of reporting.”
Spyra translates his observations into an energetically charged black and white series, which strongly draws the viewer’s attention to his visual language. He moves close to the people he portrays. His motifs seem dramatic and quiet at the same time. He forces the viewer to look closely, even if the situation cannot be fully understood. The photographer explains this approach: “I already have thousands of pictures of shouting and screaming boys and men. It’s what you see here almost every day, and it’s getting more and more boring to shoot. I’m trying to work out a different approach this time.”
The intention is clear: viewers of these images not only see the situation in Kashmir, but also experience it on an emotional level and empathise with the local people. In this way the photographer wants to build awareness for the effects of the ongoing crisis on the population.
(Text updated 2020)
Born in Hagen, Germany, in 1984, Spyra worked for a year as a freelance photographer for a local newspaper in his hometown, before studying Photography at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hanover from 2007 to 2009. He has won numerous awards for his photography and has been published in many magazines. In addition to assignments, he works on personal, long-term projects. He is based in Dortmund, Germany.