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Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, a Spanish-born photojournalist, believes photography has the power to make the world a better, more peaceful place.

Since around 2000, Vilanova, 43, has documented the lives of women and children living in conflict zones in such countries as Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

A series of his works, covering battlefields in the Middle East and Africa, won in late May the second Mika Yamamoto International Journalist Award, created to honor Japanese journalist Mika Yamamoto, who was shot dead in Aleppo, Syria, in August 2012.

The Mika Yamamoto Memorial Foundation says Vilanova’s work helps people outside conflict zones recognize “the reality that there are people living exposed to the disasters of war right now, in this age.”

During a recent interview on the eve of the award ceremony in Tokyo, Vilanova said he wanted to change society for the better with his photographs.

He said that although he has not been successful so far in achieving this wish, he will not give up because he believes “there will be no news without journalists.”

The foundation also commended Vilanova for “the overwhelming power of his works” and for his “strong spirit” that allowed him to return to Syria despite having been held there by militants for a period.

Vilanova was captured and held captive by a precursor body of the Islamic State militant group for about six months from September 2013 when covering the conflict in Syria.

But he returned to the country upon his release as he believed “reporting what’s happening in Syria is more important than worrying about what happened to me.”

Born in Barcelona, Vilanova was impressed with images from “The Third Man,” a 1949 monochrome thriller set in postwar Vienna, and started taking photographs at about age 13.

After studying photography at a university in France, he became a freelance photojournalist.

Vilanova said wars are “the most hideous act that has ever been done by human beings” but that “I have also witnessed their beautiful side (in battlefields).”

He said some people he has met have been willing to sacrifice their lives to help the vulnerable without expecting anything in return, saying Yamamoto was one such person.

“We need more people like Mika,” Vilanova said.

Vilanova has already left for his next destination: Yemen, which is trapped in a civil war.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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