Yannis Behrakis was born in 1960 in Athens, where he his photografic carrer in 1986-66. Influenced by the movie “Under Fire”– in 1988 he began working for the Reuters News Agency in the Greek capital. Behrakis’s “charisma” and “his ability to be in the right place at the right time” was made apparent already on his first mission abroad, when he covered the crisis in Libya in January 1989, with a photograph of Muammar Gaddafi that was an immediate front page in many magazines and newspapers worldwide.
His thirty-years long career saw major international events such as the Ayatollah Khomeini funeral in Iran, the changes that took place in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, the political clashes in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, the wars in Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the First and Second Gulf War, the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Kashmir earthquake, the events in Greece. His lens was present in the political upheavals and major Arab Spring events in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the 2013 turmoil in Turkey, the Ukrainian crisis of 2014 in Kiev, and the civil war in eastern Ukraine.
He also covered many international sports events, including four Summer Olympics and the World Cup in the USA. In 2008 he moved in Jerusalem as head of the Reuters’ photo operation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. In 2010 he returned to his home country as a chief photographer in Greece and Cyprus to cover the financial and political crisis. In 2015-16 he covered extensively the refugee crisis in Europe.
His photos from all of his missions have been published thousands of times in news media –printed and electronic– all over the world.
Although none of his missions is subservient to the others, a major station in his career was the adventure of Sierra Leone in 2000, when he risked his life along with his colleagues Kurt Schork and Mark Chisholm and the Associated Press agency’s cameraman Miguel Gil Moreno. This incident, under the shadow of the deaths of his close friend Kurt Schork and Miguel Gil Moreno, was proved decisive for Behrakis, and gave to the public one of his most famous photographs internationally, a self-portrait with his eyes raised to the sky immediately after the ambush and while he was struggling to escape.
In 2016, his and his partners’ work on the refugee crisis brought the Pulitzer Prize in Greece for the first time.
He was head of the photographic Department of Reuters News Agency in Greece and Cyprus for many years, the last two being the Senior Editor Special Projects, while he presented his work with extensive lectures in many colleges and universities in Greece and abroad.
Behrakis was devoted not only to his own work but also to the people whose lives he was immortalising, the weak, the bereaved of the wars and the social upheavals, to those who did not have access to the same platform, and the voice to tell their stories. To teach anyone who could claim that they didn’t know. As was his most characteristic sentence, throughout the hundreds of interviews and speeches that he has given in all the years of his career, “my job is to ensure that there is no one who can say “I didn’t know””.
Yannis Behrakis passed away in March 2019 in Athens, Greece, leaving behind his tremendous work, a rich heritage not only of photographic value but also of journalistic ethos.
Yannis Behrakis received a plethora of awards both in Greece and abroad.
In 1998, 2002 and 2003, he was named European News Photographer of the Year by the European Fuji Awards.
He won seven times the title of the Greek Photojournalist of the Year from Fujifilm.
In 1999, the Overseas Press Club (OPC – of America) awarded him the John Faber Prize for his work in Kosovo.
In 2000 he got the first place in the General News Stories category in the World Press Photo contest. During the same year he won the Botsis Foundation Award.
In 2002 he won the People’s Choice Prize at the Bayeux-Calvados Awards for International Correspondents.
In 2015 the Guardian named him Photographer of the Year
In 2016 he won the Pulitzer Prize, along with a team of photographers at Reuters, in the Breaking News category for his work on the refugee crisis. During the same year he won two awards at the Bayeux-Calvados Awards: both the First Prize of the jury (consisting of world-famous war correspondents) and the Audience Award –he thus became the second photojournalist to have won both awards in the same year in the 23 years of the institution’s operation.