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Photo of maimed Bibi wins top prize

By Susannah Palk for CNN
  • South African photographer Jodi Bieber has won the 2010 World Press Photo award
  • Her picture of a mutilated Afghan girl made headlines when it was featured in TIME magazine
  • The image is of 18-year-old Bibi Aisha who had her ears and nose cut off by the Taliban

(CNN) -- South African photographer Jodi Bieber has clinched the 2010 World Press Photo award for her haunting portrait of a brutally mutilated Afghan girl.

The winning photo, which was featured on the cover of August's TIME magazine, captured 18-year-old Bibi Aisha, who had her ears and nose cut off by the Taliban as punishment for fleeing her husband's house.

Jury chair David Burnett said: "There was something incredibly striking about the photograph and there was just something very magnetic about her (Aisha)."

He admitted Bieber's image was not the favorite to win the top prize, but said the jury was drawn to the portrait throughout the selection process.

It's about something that happens to women every single day all over the world.
--Award-winning photographer Jodi Beiber

"It's a very hard picture to look at, but your eyes keep coming back to it," he said. "It's a difficult picture to engage with, because it's so uncomfortable, but it does what a good photograph should do -- draw you in."

Bieber, who has previously won eight World Press Photo awards, said she was absolutely shocked to have won the top accolade.

"I think it's quite amazing, because it's not covering a big breaking news story," she said.

"It's a picture related to violence against women. It's not a natural disaster, it's not breaking news, it's about something that happens to women every single day all over the world. So in a way I think it's the greatest picture to have as a winning photograph."

Capturing the picture was not an easy task explained Bieber, with the young Aisha painfully shy about her looks and suffering from stress ever since her traumatic experience.

"During the shoot I could see that it wasn't really working," said Bieber. "So I put the camera down and had a girl-to-girl talk with her, because I thought she was really beautiful.

"Photographically I really wanted to capture her inner strength and her beauty. Clearly, I couldn't understand what it feels like to be so violently abused, but something happened and we worked together."

Aisha's image has now become a global symbol of the Taliban's violence towards women, but Burnett stressed there was no political motivation behind the jury's choice of photo.

"This picture was strictly chosen on a photographic basis ... we all feel we have chosen the best picture that deserves the photo of the year award," he said.

Aisha now lives in New York, were she is having reconstructive surgery on her nose and ears, but has kept away from the limelight and is still suffering from stress.

Other prize-winning pictures showed everything from flooding in Pakistan to protesters rioting in Thailand, and covered many of last year's major events, including the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and Iceland's volcanic ash cloud.

Despite widely varying subject matter Burnett said the photographs all had one thing in common: "They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the great thing about a photograph is that it can be a thousand words in any language.

"These images capture your heart and touch your soul and that's what photography is all about."