José Víctor Salazar Balza, the demonstrator depicted in the winning photo, was standing near a motorcycle on fire when it exploded, engulfing him in flames.
“It’s quite symbolic, actually,” said National Geographic’s Whitney Johnson, another member of the jury. “The man, he has a mask on his face. He’s come to sort of represent not just himself and himself on fire, but sort of this idea of Venezuela burning.”
The photo is part of a series that Schemidt shot within a span of two minutes on May 3, 2017. His successive images show Salazar Balza wrapped in flames, running for help.
Some of Schemidt’s colleagues, including the Associated Press’s Fernando Llano, captured the incident’s aftermath as Salazar Balza received help from fellow demonstrators. “A few days afterward I saw him on social media, inviting people to continue the protests on the streets,” Schemidt told the British Journal of Photography. “I read he was recovering from his burns.”
Schemidt’s win comes four months into 2018 as the World Press Photo organization introduced, this year, a new method of announcing its winners. In February, six contenders were shortlisted for the top prize, with the final results announced at a ceremony in Amsterdam on Thursday.
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