On April 4, 2014, an Afghan police commander walked up and emptied his AK47 into the back seat of the Toyota Corolla where German photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus was seated.

Niedringhaus and her close friend and colleague Kathy Gannon, a Canadian based in Pakistan, were waiting outside a government compound in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Khost to cover the presidential election for the Associated Press.

Niedringhaus died instantly. She was 48.

Seven bullets shattered Gannon’s arms and shoulders. One of her arms was practically shot off and a lung was punctured.

“Your life is as important to me as it is to you,” Gannon remembers the Afghan surgeon saying at the government hospital in Khost.

He cauterised the bleeding, put a tube in her punctured lung so she could breathe and “literally used duct tape and wood to put my arm together”, said Gannon.

Doctors at the French military hospital in Kabul where she was later medically evacuated said that had she reached them first, they would have amputated the arm.

That was 10 years ago.

On April 4, 2024, an exhibition of Niedringhaus’s powerful images from Afghanistan and Pakistan opened at the Bronx Documentary Center in New York.

A labour of love, the photographs and the book, both, are a testament to the creed followed by the two women: humanise people and present them to the world in all their complexities, beyond the stereotypes.

Kathy Gannon shares an iconic photo by Anja Niedringhaus during a talk at Emerson College in Boston in 2022. Credit: Beena Sarwar via Sapan News.

On the frontline

Gannon, then 60, has undergone 18 surgeries since the attack, with an annual procedure in New York City. Another surgery is scheduled for later.

Her former employers, the Associated Press, have taken care of her medical needs and have overall been “extraordinary” in their support, she says. Gannon retired from the Associated Press in 2022, after 35 years of covering Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In all the years I’ve known Gannon, I’ve never once heard her complain or mention her injuries or trauma. Even now, when I reach out to ask her about the exhibit, she is characteristically matter-of-fact and focuses more on Niedringhaus and her spirit – which she herself exemplifies.

The pain is pretty steady, she admits when I ask, but “you manage it. When you think about what could have happened, it was so close to the spine… I’m so grateful every day.”

Gannon continued reporting tenaciously, returning to Afghanistan soon after. It was not her first time either.

Gannon had landed in Peshawar in 1986 to cover the first Afghan war. The “mujahedeen”, or “holy warriors”, trained and conditioned in Pakistan, financed by the United States and Saudi Arabia to fight the former Soviet Union, later morphed into the Taliban – literally, “students” – of the seminaries they had been trained at in Pakistan.

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Gannon was one of the few Western reporters they permitted to work there – a testament to the fairness of her reporting and the trust she inspires.

In 2001, she reported from Kabul during the American invasion as the Taliban were ousted from power. There were air raids, power cuts, and bomb attacks – one of which struck nearby, throwing her across the room. Then too, she went right back to work.

Gannon and Niedringhaus had planned to do a text and photo book on Afghanistan together that they wanted to publish by the end of 2014, around the time the US was to hand over security to the Afghans.

Niedringhaus had already begun choosing images. “And it is that book that we changed to be just Anja and her images with remembrances, which is accompanying the exhibition.”

Camera, courage and heart

In 2005, Niedringhaus had received the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism award. Gannon was a recipient in 2002.

“I’m not here today to tell you my difficulties covering conflicts,” Niedringhaus said in her acceptance speech. “The real difficulties and the real courage belong to those who are subjected against their will to conflicts. I do my job simply to report people’s courage with my camera and with my heart.


“Anja believed in and reported on the courage in other people’s hearts with her heart,” Gannon said over the phone from Islamabad where she has lived since 1988. In 2004, she had married architect Naeem Pasha.

It was this courage and heart that shaped Gannon’s vision for the book. When Gannon began reaching out to possible partners for the exhibition, award-winning journalist Michael Kamber was the first to say yes. Kamber runs the Bronx Documentary Center.

She realised quickly that he was someone “Anja would be one with”. With his commitment to the community he serves – largely Haitian immigrants – exemplifies “her spirit of giving, caring… she was a crazy person for helping others”.

As is Gannon. She was with Niedringhaus on those trips “reaching deep into the soul of Afghans” – and Pakistanis – documenting in words what Niedringhaus did in pictures, both offering glimpses into lives rarely witnessed by outsiders.

They are the only western journalists to embed with the Pakistan army, as well as the Afghan army, experiences they shared in a detailed interview with the International Women’s Media Foundation, 2012.

Another uniquely daring embed was with truckers from Landikotal in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa transporting fuel from Karachi to Kandahar.

“We did a lot of stories like that which no one had ever done before, or since,” Gannon told me. “We were trying to make the invisible visible.”

She had shared some of these stories and photos with my journalism students and at a larger discussion with two more classes at Emerson College in the fall of 2022. I had roped her in as she was in the Boston area as a Fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Gannon’s co-authors and co-curators for the book and the exhibition are Ann Marie “Ami” Beckmann, director of the Deutsche Borse Photography Foundation, and Muhammad Muheisen, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning photographer.

Beckmann was also a close friend of Niedringhaus and edited her At War book. Muheisen runs the Every Day Refugees foundation and also photographs for National Geographic.

Niedringhaus travelled for her work “through some of the most difficult years of the protracted Afghan war, reaching deep into the soul of Afghans, her pictures often serving to remind us of our own humanity”, says the Bronx Documentary Center.


“The exhibition serves to remind us of the extraordinary sacrifices journalists make to keep us all informed. This is a particularly powerful lesson at a time when journalists are dying, suffering life-changing injuries, being targeted, or being imprisoned at an alarming rate,” says the Bronx Documentary Center.

The attack that killed Niedringhaus and affected Gannon for life “provided a stark reminder of how broader tensions can set off violence at the most personal level”, said a New York Times report days after the killing. But its aftermath “also highlighted the bonds between old friends and strangers alike, be they Afghans or foreigners”.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president then, had immediately tried to reach Gannon whom he had known for years, and condemned the attack in a statement. Muhammad Shah, who saved Gannon’s arm, told the New York Times that not only he, “but all Afghans are disappointed and sorry” about the attack on these “guests” in Afghanistan.

Following Niedringhaus’s killing, the International Women’s Media Foundation had instituted the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award.The award celebrates “courageous women photojournalists like Anja” and recognise the “importance of visual journalism that helps us better understand our complicated world”.

The exhibition will travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 9-10, co-sponsored by the Nieman Foundation and the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University.

The book and exhibition are supported by the Bronx Documentary Center exhibition, supported by Howard G Buffett Foundation and the Associated Press.

Beena Sarwar is founder and chief editor of Sapan News, where Kathy Gannon serves on the informal advisory council. This article has not been sponsored or commissioned by anyone.

This is a Sapan News syndicated feature.