Reuters Wins Pulitzer for Rangoon Death Picture
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
A Reuters news agency photographer won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography on Monday for a picture of a Burmese soldier shooting dead a Japanese video cameraman during a last September’s demonstrations in Rangoon.
The news agency’s Adrees Latif won for “his dramatic photograph of the Japanese videographer, sprawled on the pavement, fatally wounded during a street demonstration in Myanmar [Burma],” the Pulitzer Prize board said.
The 92nd annual Pulitzer Prizes in journalism, letters, drama and music were announced at Columbia University in New York City. The Public Service winner receives a gold medal, while winners in the remaining 20 categories receive $10,000.
Reuters carried news of the award together with a firsthand account by its Bangkok senior photographer Adrees Latif of how he took the pictures which won him a Pulitzer Prize. The pictures were taken in Burma during the protests in September last year and include the photo of Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai being shot.
“Tipped off by protests against soaring fuel prices, I landed in Yangon [Rangoon] on 23 September, 2007, with some old clothes, a Canon 5D camera, two fixed lenses and a laptop.
“For the next four days, I went to Shwedagon Pagoda, two-three kilometers from the center of town and waited for the monks who had been gathering there daily at noon.
“Since I was at the same pagoda every day, dozens of people, including monks, asked me who I was and what I was doing. As the ruling military regime is notoriously secretive, my replies were guarded.
“Barefoot in maroon robes, and ringed by civilians, the monks chanted and prayed before starting their two-kilometer march to the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon [Rangoon]. Each day their numbers grew, from hundreds to thousands.
“By 27 September, the city had become packed with troops. Soldiers and government agents stood at street corners.
“Finding the Shwedagon Pagoda sealed off, I went to the middle of town to find groups of young people taunting soldiers at Sule.
“Within minutes, the crowd swelled from hundreds to a few thousand. The soldiers threw barbed wire coils across the roads.
“Knowing that hundreds of people were gunned down in similar circumstances in a 1988 uprising, I climbed an old crosswalk directly overhead, to get to one of the few spots offering a clear view.
“Below me, protesters were singing and waving flags; to the side, young men were thrusting their pelvises at the soldiers.
“At about 1.30 p.m. local time, two dark green, open-top army trucks approached, followed by dozens more packed with riot police. They were hit by a barrage of water bottles, fruit and abuse from the crowd.
“I had already locked on my 135mm lens and set my camera shutter speed to 1000, aperture to F/7.1 and ISO at 800. With the camera on manual, I wanted to stop any movement while offering as much depth-of-field as possible.
“Two minutes later, the shooting started. My eye caught a person flying backwards through the air. Instinctively, I started photographing, capturing four frames of the man on his back.
“The entry point of the bullet is clear in the first frame, with a soldier in flip flops standing over the man and pointing a rifle. In the second frame, the man is reaching over to try and film.
“More shots rang out. I flinched before getting off two more frames—one of the man pointing the camera at the soldier, and one of his face contorted in pain.
“Beyond him, the crowd scattered before the advancing soldier. The whole incident, which went on to reverberate around the world, was over in two seconds.
“I kept low on the bridge, capturing some more images from among a crowd taking cover. However, with soldiers firing shots and smoke grenades below, I had to get off the bridge.
“With adrenaline pumping through my body, I put my camera in my bag and followed the protests for another hour and a half. Feeling the demonstration had lost its strength, I made my way back to my hotel via backstreets and along a railway line.
“My initial caption read: “An injured man tries to photograph after police and military officials fired upon and then charged a crowd of thousands protesting in Yangon’s city center September 27, 2007.” Initially, I thought he was merely trampled. I had no idea he was dead.
“Two of the frames showed the man’s face. A few hours later his colleagues in Japan had identified him as Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai.
“The images dominated front pages across the US and the world. Mourners at Nagai’s funeral in Japan clutched the picture, which played a role in the public outrage that prompted Tokyo to scale back aid to the ruling military junta.”
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