By Donald R. Winslow
© 2010 News Photographer magazine
NEW YORK, NY – Photojournalists Mary Chind of The Des Moines Register and NPPA member Crag F. Walker of The Denver Post have won this year's Pulitzer Prizes for Photography.
Chind won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for a dramatic drowning rescue photograph, and Walker won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for the extended essay "Ian Fisher: American Soldier."
Chind's photograph won First Place in NPPA's Best Of Photojournalism competition in the Domestic News category a few weeks ago. It shows "the heart stopping moment when a rescuer dangling in a makeshift harness tries to save a woman trapped in the foaming water beneath a dam," the Pulitzer board said.
The woman, Patricia Ralph-Neely, 67, was saved by a construction worker after her boat went over the Center Street Dam and her husband drowned. On the day Chind shot the picture the photographer stood on a crowded bank of rescue workers and firefighters as they tried unsuccessfully to reach the victim. Attempts to lower a crane down to the woman failed, and finally worker Jason Oglesbee rigged himself to a crane and lowered himself above to the water, reaching out for the victim each time she surfaced in the swirling foam, until finally he was able to pluck her to safety.
The following day Chind's photograph ran very large on the Register's front page. The image was also picked up by the Associated Press and distributed to members, and received widespread play around the world
Today Chind was at Grand View University in Des Moines with several other photographers to critique student portfolios when she learned about the Pulitzer.
"It doesn't even seem real," she told News Photographer magazine this afternoon. "I was just sitting down with the fist student and we'd gone through four or five images, we were in a small room, and my coworker Andrea Melendez was across the hall with a student and she just said, 'Mary!', and I said, 'What now?', and she said, 'You've won the prize.' I thought she was teasing me, because some of my friends have been giving me a hard time about it. But then Linda Epstein called from Washington to congratulate me and she didn't have my number but she had Andrea's number, so she called Andrea's phone, and then I thought maybe it was real."
Chind told the student photographer, "We're gonna have to go now." But she said her coworkers, to their credit, stayed behind and continued with portfolio critiques.
Ironically, Melendez was also with Chind the day the Pulitzer-winning picture was shot. "She was already at the bridge and was the one who told me what was going on there," Chind remembered today. "And then today she's the one who told me that I won."
Editors at the Register were also looking for Chind when the prize was announced, and she was summoned back to the newsroom to celebrate. When she got back the photographer was greeted by the publisher and the Register's staff, who toasted the Pulitzer honor with champagne.
"It's refreshing to see a single photographic moment honored by the Pulitzer jurors," Kenny Irby of The Poynter Institute for Media Studies told News Photographer magazine today.
"Mary Chind's reporting for The Des Moines Register demonstrates the enduring power and value of the decisive moment as a compelling journalistic story form. In the end, her reporting represents the immediacy and urgency of this dramatic rescue. That said, by no means do I belive that this will relaunch a new-found run of single moment photographic winners ... yet it does validate the historic veracity of the single, iconic photograph in an age of evolving multi-image presentations in print and online reporting."
Irby's sense of Pulitzer photographic history comes from having chaired the judging of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize photography categories and as a photography editor shared in three Pulitzer Prize-winning photography projects while at Newsday.
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Walker's winning photographic essay documented over 27 months the recruitment, induction, training, deployment to Iraq, and return of one particular young man, Ian Fisher. The package published by the Post included not only still photographs but video and multimedia as well. In the Post's newsroom today the soldier who was the subject of Walker's essay, Ian Fisher, and Fisher's parents were there to watch Walker get the Pulitzer news. Fisher is still serving on active duty in the Army with about three more years to go in his current enlistment.
"I was floored," Walker told News Photographer magazine today after from Denver after the newsroom celebration calmed down a bit. Having the soldier and his parents in the building with them to celebrate "was so awesome."
"I didn't know they were here, they had them stowed away someplace in the building and I didn't see them until right after I knew. My boss, [photography director] John Sunderland was reading the winners' list off the computer and I was about to stand up when he read my name, and I turned around and saw Ian's parents first, and they kind of parted and then I saw Ian."
Walker's photographic coverage of Fisher stopped when the soldier returned home from his deployment and got married, but Walker has stayed in touch with him through Facebook and texting.
"I wish I could say the whole story was my idea, but it wasn't. It came about when a group of editors were having a bit of an 'after hours' meeting and they saw a speech by President Bush in 2007 about the upcoming troop surge in Iraq. They were wondering, and asking each other, 'Who would join the Army now? Who would sign up for it when you know you're going into combat?' That made them ask about what kind of story we could tell our readers that they could not find anywhere else. So we found a local young man who was going to graduate from high school and go into the Army and on to Iraq, and it was ironic that after all that he ended up being stationed at Fort Carson about an hour away from Denver."
Images from Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs were recognized in NPPA's Best Of Photojournalism competition in March when the Post won first place in the Multiple-Page Newspaper Documentary Photojournalism Project category in the picture editing contest, and Walker won an honorable mention in Local Portrait & Personality with an image of soldier Fisher being processed into the Army in the photography contest.
The finalists in the Breaking News category were the Associated Press for their coverage of the war in Afghanistan, and the New York Daily News for their coverage of the miraculous crash landing of US Airways flight #1549, piloted by Captain Chesley "Sulley" Sullenberger, in the Hudson River off Manhattan.
The finalists in the Feature category were Mary F. Calvert, formerly of The Washington Times, for her documentary essay on how rape has become a weapon of war in the Congo, and Robert Cohen of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for his essay about homeless families living in motels during the recession.
"Today is a great day for The Post," editor Gregory Moore said. "Craig Walker did an outstanding job on a subject of great importance: who are these young people putting their lives on the line to fight for our country. He really brought Ian's story to life and we are grateful his work has been recognized for the Pulitzer Prize." It's the sixth time the Post has won a Pulitzer.
An NPPA member since 1987, Walker grew up in York, PA, and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Photography with top honors in 1986. After working in a York studio, he joined the staff of the Marlboro Enterprise in Massachusetts before moving on to the Berkshire Eagle.
In 1998 he moved from the Berkshires to bigger mountains, on the front range of Colorado to shoot for The Denver Post. He was part of the Post's coverage of the Columbine High School tragedy. After 9/11 and the conflict in Iraq started, Walker began covering the build-up of U.S. forces in Kuwait.
The jury for this year's photographic Pulitzer Prizes was chaired by Sherman Williams of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Jury members were Nancy Andrews of the Detroit Free Press, Nanya Friend of the Charleston (WV) Daily Mail, Richard Murphy of the Anchorage Daily News, and Steve Gonzales of the Houston Chronicle.