AMSTERDAM – Venezuelan photojournalist Ronaldo Schemidt received on Thursday the World Press Photo award for an image he captured showing the accidental burning of an opposition demonstrator during anti-government disturbances in Caracas in May 2017.
The photo captures the moment at which 28-year-old Jose Victor Salazar is running enveloped in flames after being hit by a spray of burning gasoline from a Bolivarian National Guard motorcycle that was set on fire by demonstrators using a Molotov cocktail.
The young man, transformed into a human torch and wearing a gas mask, is running instinctively to get away from the blast and fire while in the background of the image, painted in black on a wall, a small graffiti of a pistol is pointing toward the word “paz” (peace).
The Agence France-Presse photojournalist regularly works in Mexico, where he lives, but he returns from time to time to his homeland to document relevant news and in May 2017 he was covering anti-government protests there when he witnessed the shocking incident.
Schemidt was facing the other way when the motorcycle exploded and Salazar burst into flames, but he turned around instantly upon feeling the heat from the blaze and began shooting photos without even being aware of the seriousness of what was occurring.
The victim, who ran for a short distance, fell to the ground seconds later as other demonstrators managed to put out the fire that had enveloped him.
An ambulance transferred Salazar to a local hospital and he survived, although he suffered first and second degree burns.
Schemidt’s image was selected over five other nominees, and subsequent shots in the series of the young man on fire show him standing in shock among his rescuers, the flames now out, but his t-shirt and much of the skin on his arms burned off.