David J. Leeson and Cheryl Diaz Meyer, senior staff photographers for The Dallas Morning News, today won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photographs for their coverage of the invasion of Iraq last year. And Carolyn Cole of the Los Angeles Times won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for her pictures of the siege of Liberia's capital city, Monrovia.
All three Pulitzer photography winners were top finishers in the NPPA Best Of Photojournalism 2004 contest Newspaper Photographer of the Year category, which was judged and announced last week. Cole is the NPPA Newspaper Photographer of the Year for her photography in Liberia and Iraq; Leeson and Diaz Meyer were Honorable Mentions in the NPPA Newspaper Photographer of the Year category for their coverage of Iraq.
Cole is also the University of Missouri's 61st annual Pictures of the Year International Newspaper Photographer of the Year for her portfolio from the Iraqi war and its aftermath. The Times, in reporting Cole's Pulitzer today, said "Cole's award for feature photography captured the chaos and terror as rebel forces laid siege to the Liberian capital, forcing President Charles Taylor to give up power and triggering a humanitarian crisis." The Pulitzer jury cited Cole's photographs for being a "cohesive, behind-the-scenes look at the effects of civil war in Liberia, with special attention to innocent citizens caught in the conflict."
For Cole, the fact that one photojournalist took all three top photography honors in a single year is a remarkable accomplishment. "I am incredibly proud of Carolyn," said Colin Crawford, the assistant managing editor of photography at the Los Angeles Times. "She is an experienced, tenacious, talented photojournalist that is truly deserving of this award. She has demonstrated over and over again that no matter what the situation, no matter how bad the conflict, that she can take memorable images that move the reader." Cole was also a finalist for the Pulitzer last year for her coverage of the Church of the Nativity siege in Bethlehem.
"The best thing about winning this is that it gives me an opportunity to thank all those people who have supported me all along," Carolyn Cole said from the photography department on her way to a staff celebration. "And that includes Colin Crawford, Steve Stroud, Gail Fisher, and many, many others." Cole said that until it was pointed out to her, she had not yet realized that she's the first photojournalist to win the Pulitzer Prize, the NPPA BOP top newspaper honor, and the Missouri POYi top newspaper honor in the same year.
Cole is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a BA in photojournalism. Before joining the Los Angeles Times, she was a staff photographer at The Sacramento Bee from 1992-94, and freelanced in Mexico City from 1990-92. She was a staff photographer for the San Francisco Examiner from 1988-90, and before that was with the El Paso Herald Post from 1986-88.
Leeson and Meyer were embedded with U.S. military units as they advanced on Baghdad at the beginning of the war with Iraq. Leeson was embedded with the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division, and Meyer was with the Marines' Second Tank Battalion. The Dallas Morning News reports that this is the first Pulitzer for Leeson, who has been with the paper since 1984 and has been a Pulitzer finalist three other times, and for Meyer, who was a finalist for the first time this year and who came to the News in 2000.
Meyer, called at a celebration party tonight only hours before she leaves on assignment for the Philippines, said "This is something that you always dream about, but you can never really envision the say that it might happen. It's truly amazing because there are so many wonderful photographers out there who could have just as well got this prize, so the fact that we're honored with it is really special." Meyer said that the real joy of it is in sharing it with her coworkers and fellow staff. "They've been so supportive, sharing in the pride and the joy of this. They are the ones who picked up the extra work while we were gone, the extra assignments, so it's just as much their prize as it is ours," she said.
Meyer also praised her boss, director of photography Ken Geiger. "He's an amazing guy, who sacrificed more than three months of his life to carry a cell phone with him twenty-four hours a day and to answer it in the middle of the night whenever I called needing a decision. He always answered, he was always there for us, and not because it is his job but because of an amazing amount of dedication he has to us and our photography."
Asked if there was any one special photograph from the essay that stands out for her today after winning the Pulitzer, Meyer said, "Probably the one of two Marines helping an old man after he had accidentally been shot in their crossfire. In the middle of the battle he was trying to sneak by. Not really knowing if he was a guerilla or not, the Marines shot him. Then when they realized he was a civilian, they went back to get him. It was the lead photography in the entry. It was a very heroic and generous moment for the Marines, it was a risk they didn't have to take."
"An award like this is bittersweet," David Leeson said. "The images in the portfolio are very difficult, of people who have died or who are dying, and it feels strange to drink champagne after photographing those things and being awarded for it. But I accept this award in memory of all those people who have fallen, and on behalf of the soldiers who are still there and fighting."
This was the fourth time Leeson has been a Pulitzer finalist. "Initially, today was a sense of relief after losing the other three times. For twenty years I've had people believing in me and having confidence in me and I've been living with comments like, 'You're going to win a Pulitzer one day.' Today was a huge affirmation for all the people who have had all the confidence in me for so many years," Leeson said.
"The Pulitzer Prize has a great service in that it gives these images an additional life, so that future generations will see them and these photographs will continue to speak truth about the cost of war, and about the price of freedom," Leeson added.
The finalists for this year's Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Photography included the Associated Press for their coverage of Iraq, and Chris Hondros Getty Images for coverage of the uprising in Liberia. The Pulitzer Board said the AP coverage was "evocative, a panoramic portrayal of the war in Iraq." They also said that the photographs by Hondros were "powerful and courageous coverage of the bloody upheaval in Liberia," and that the Pulitzer jury moved his entry from the Feature Photography category to News.
Also finalists for the Pulitzer in Feature Photography were Pauline Lubens, Dai Sugano, and Patrick Tehan of the San Jose Mercury News for their photographic coverage of the recall election of California Gov. Gray Davis. The Pulitzer jury said their photographs were "imaginative and sophisticated." The other finalist in this category was Damir Sagolj's of Reuters for his unforgettable photograph of a U.S. Marine medic holding a wounded child in Iraq. The child's mother had just been shot and killed in crossfire at a Marine check point when their vehicle failed to stop as ordered (see cover, News Photographer, September 2003). The Pulitzer photo jury moved his entry from the Breaking News category to Feature.