A Glimpse of Life: The Pulitzer Photographs

“A Glimpse of Life” is a film about the Pulitzer Prize for Photojournalism. The prize is awarded to a someone who does outstanding photo reporting. It highlights some notable winners and their photos. The film shows images from the 1940s to the 2000s.

“It’s not a photography contest. It’s about telling some of the biggest stories of the year,” prize winner William Snyder said. Winning photos have many of the same elements as a great news story. They are relevant, prominent and, above all, interesting. These pictures must tell a compelling story.

One of the first pictures the film highlights is a photo of Iwo Jima. It is one of the most iconic pictures ever taken. Joe Rosenthal took it in 1945. It shows some U. S. Marines raising the flag. They are surrounded by rubble. The picture was taken in the middle of the process. The soldiers appear worn out, but together they raise the flag. It’s a moment of brightness in a horrible war. The depiction of heroism and camaraderie continues to inspire.

Many Pulitzer winners didn’t portray the U. S. Army so positively. Eddie Adams won for Saigon Execution in 1968. It was a controversial picture. It shows a man being shot in the head. You can see the impact of the shot on his head. He is clearly a prisoner of war, being killed by soldiers. The soldiers were backed by the United States. The raw nature of this photo shocked people. It made a clear point about the injustices of the Vietnam War.

These injustices don’t only happen abroad. Pulitzer winners have explored the same themes on U.S. soil. John Paul Filo’s picture of the Kent State shooting is outstanding example. It shows a young woman crying over a dead man. She is kneeling beside the body with her hands in the air. He is face down on the pavement. The photo captures the tragedy of a life cut short. It shows the brutality of the U. S. government against its own people.

Other prize winners covered famines and natural disasters. William Snyder photographed orphanages in Romania in the 1990s. His pictures tell a story of neglect. One of his prizewinning photos shows a malnourished child in a crib. The room is almost empty. Only a doll is looking on. And the child isn’t much larger than the doll.

Not all prizes are given to work about wars and killings. John White won the Pulitzer in 1982. He made a series of photographs of life in inner-city Chicago. One striking photo shows a boy running in a hallway. His school had no track, so the children ran races in the halls. “They ran with their hearts – that’s why they’re state champs,” White said. Blacks in the city lived a life completely different from the rest of the country. White shone a light on their experiences.

Many of these photojournalists risked their lives. They witnessed deeply disturbing things. Some of them seem haunted by what they’ve seen. But they all love the craft.

“It’s an honor to be a journalist,” Stan Grossfeld said. “If I care about something, I can make half a million people care.”

“It’s a front seat to history,” John White said.

Photojournalism is a powerful tool. These pictures have a physicality and immediacy that written stories cannot capture. They arouse emotion. They stir the soul.  There is, as Carol Guzy said, “something about that still moment in time that does touch people.”

John White said it well. “Everyone has a story. And we sing their song. If we don’t do it – if the journalist doesn’t do it – who’s going to do it?”

Photo by Carol Guzy.