26-year-old freelance photojournalist Daniel Rodrigues landed the biggest ‘win’ of his photographic career this year when it was announced that his photo Football in Guinea-bissau (shown above) had won 1st prize in the prestigious World Press Photo competition’s Daily Life category.
The win was more than a fancy new line on his resume: you see, just two years ago Rodrigues was flat broke, and this award will allow him to resume the career that he almost had to abandon to survive.
The Porto, Portugal-based photographer graduated from the Portuguese Institute of Photography back in 2010 and found an internship at the newspaper Correio da Manhã and a job with the agency Global Imagens.
When finding a suitable job in Portugal didn’t pan out, Rodrigues decided to volunteer with a humanitarian aid organization called Missão Dulombi starting in March 2012. That role would soon take him to the West African country to Guinea Bissau, where he would help reconstruct a school and hospital that were in bad shape.
On one of the days he was there, he joined in on a soccer game with boys and girls who had a day off from school. After playing for a while, he captured a photograph of the players in the midst of their competition, with dust being kicked up all around.
After returning to Portugal that year, Rodrigues found himself unemployed due to cutbacks at Global Imagens. With bills piling up and not enough income to pay them off, Rodrigues was forced to sell all of his gear (a DSLR, three lenses, a tripod, a flash, and a backpack) in October 2012 to a fellow photographer.
In an interview with the New York Times, Rodrigues says it was the most difficult decision he has ever had to make:
It was a last resort and the most difficult decision of my 26 years. I live with my grandmother; she is 68. I used the money to make car payments, pay rent and pay for water, electricity and food.
On February 15 of this year, Rodrigues was informed that his photo of the kids playing soccer had won in the 2012 World Press Photo Competition. His life and career quickly took a turn for the better.
In addition to the €1,500 (~$1,940) cash prize that comes with the award, benefactors began to take notice of Rodrigues. Canon and a Portuguese bank Banco Espírito Santo both contacted him to provide all the photo gear he would need for his photojournalism work. A newspaper in Portugal also ran story about Rodrigues’s unemployment and award, which led to a flood of people anonymously offering Rodrigues money to support his career (some even offered their personal photo gear).
Rodrigues has now replaced his entire kit, and shoots with a Canon 5D Mark III, three lenses, a flash, and a larger backpack.
The photographer tells the New York Times that he will soon be traveling back to Guinea Bissau to thank the children and offer them the photo, saying “the prize is also theirs.” His current dream is to work as a photojournalist for an international news agency — preferably in Africa.
Image credit: Photograph by Daniel Rodrigues/World Press Photo