Reflections on “A Glimpse of Life: The Pulitzer Photographs”

    “A Glimpse of Life: The Pulitzer Photographs” is a show and tell of why. Why do the winning photojournalists do what they do? Why does it matter? What compels any photojournalists to snap that distinguished photo?

     Photojournalists are compelled to capture that split second in time that no human eye, video or story can capture and freeze in time in quite the same way. A picture can stand alone and speak volumes, but it also has the potential to create curiosity and motivate action. All photojournalists know that seeing is believing.  Their photos bring life to words. A story no longer relies on the eyes of a writer. You see it for yourself through the lens of their camera. The photo becomes personal to and for the viewer.

     A photo becomes worthy of a Pulitzer Prize when it can’t be ignored. There is something about it that distinguishes it from others. It is an image that has become a standard of understanding. It may be a photo of an ordinary person that causes us to pause and share a common experience. It may be a photo depicting someone or something, though far removed from the view, that shows exactly what it was like for that split second. More than showing us, it challenges us to feel.

   Some Pulitzer Prize photos compel you to share a common experience with photo’s subject or the person next to you. Regardless of personal opinions about a subject, a photo is evidence of the human experience. It allows a step into someone else’s experience. 

   The Pulitzer Prize photo’s story is a little like the story told of the little boy throwing starfish back into the sea. He was asked, “Why bother? You can’t make a difference. There are too many.” His response, “It makes a difference to that one.” The photo shows the “that one.” 

     Some Pulitzer Prize photos draw the viewer to stare in shock, horror or disbelief at something it’s easier to not see. They teach. They remind. Others make us smile or celebrate.

     Watching the video of the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima and freeze into the iconic Joe Rosenthal 1945 photo, it was easy to see how the photo captured the attention of Americans. Against the backdrop of a gray and cloudy sky, the soldiers work together to raise Old Glory to fly high with the rubble of war beneath their feet. One soldier’s job is to keep the pole firmly planted as the others lift a partially furled flag up and toward him. They are uniformed with their helmets on, and it takes careful examination to count six men. One can imagine that that is the way these men would want it – not to see individuals but, instead, the band of brothers.  “Something about that still moment in time…touches people.” –Carol Guzy. Americans saw the flag penetrate Japanese soil and tasted victory.

Iwo Jima.