The story behind this intimate and award-winning father-son photo

Mehmet Aslan has taken out top honours at the Siena International Photo Awards after capturing a moment between a father and son without limbs in Turkey. Here, he tells SBS News the story behind the shot.

Munzir Al-Nazzal and his son, who survived the Syrian war.

The 2021 SIPA Photo of the Year features Munzir Al-Nazzal and his son, Mustafa, who survived the Syrian war. Source: SBS / , Supplied/Mehmet Aslan

Munzir Al-Nazzal was walking through a bazaar in Idlib, northwestern Syria, when a bomb exploded. As a result, he lost his right leg. 

His son, Mustafa, was born with no limbs at all.

Mr Al-Nazzal's wife, Zeinab, was pregnant with Mustafa when she inhaled nerve gas during the Syrian civil war. Her medication led to her son’s development of a rare condition, tetra-amelia syndrome. It left him without any of his four limbs when he was born. 

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After leaving Syria, the family made it safely to Reyhanli in Hatay, a province in Turkey that lies on the border. It was there they met photographer Mehmet Aslan, who befriended them.



In a candid moment, Aslan captured the father and son sharing an intimate moment together in a photograph that has now been selected as Photo of the Year at the Siena International Photo Awards (SIPA) 2021.

“War, generally, is a worldwide issue, which is one of the main reasons why I started taking photos. But this particular family affected me greatly because of the dire situation they were in,” Aslan told SBS News.

“I never imagined [the photo] would receive this much attention. But the fact that it has is a source of happiness for me."



Photographer Sergio Pitamiz, one of the 20 jurors on the SIPA panel, said the shot was “exceptional” and “difficult to look at”. 

“But, in its drama, it is also a moment of joy and happiness for a father and his son who survived the horror and events that we cannot even remotely imagine,” Pitamiz said. “Despite this, and even though they are still in a really difficult situation, they have the strength to smile. In one shot there is all the tragedy of a conflict, but also the happiness of having survived it.”

Thousands of photographers from 163 countries made submissions to the awards, but it was Aslan’s image, titled “The Hardship of Life”, that was crowned the winner. 

“I love to offer a helping hand and bring people up when they fall. I was raised to always help people are in disadvantaged situations," he said. 

With prosthesis treatment currently unavailable in Turkey for young Mustafa, Aslan clings onto hope recognition of his photo could lead to an international effort to assist the family. 

"I hope to use my photography to create awareness and create change, but the aim in particular for this photo was to raise awareness on Mustafa's family, and receive funds for Mustafa's prosthetic limbs," he said. 

The COVID-19 category winner, capturing 98-year-old woman Elena Perez celebrating her birthday in a nursing home after recovering from the virus.
The COVID-19 category winner, capturing 98-year-old woman Elena Perez celebrating her birthday in a nursing home after recovering from the virus. Source: SBS / , Supplied/Brais Lorenzo Couto


The winning photograph in the travel category, featuring an elephant attacking a Jeep full of people in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka.
The winning photograph in the travel category, featuring an elephant attacking a Jeep full of people in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. Source: SBS / , Supplied/Sergey Savvi


Other SIPA winners included Sergey Savvi, who was awarded best travel photo.

He captured an image of an elephant attacking a Jeep full of people in Sri Lanka, highlighting the complex relationship between humans and animals in nature. 

A new COVID-19 category was added to the awards which featured 98-year-old woman Elena Perez who recovered after testing positive for the virus.

In the photograph, taken by Brais Lorenzo Cuoto, she is surrounded by staff at her nursing home who celebrated her birthday with her. 


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3 min read
Published 25 October 2021 at 7:56pm
By Rayane Tamer
Source: SBS