Sunday, May 5, 2013

Pulitzer and World Press Photos of the Year: 1959

Continuing the list of the winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Photography, from inception in 1942; and the World Press Photograph of the Year, from inception in 1955:

Year:     1959 

Award:   Pulitzer Prize for Photography 

Photographer:     William Seaman of the Minneapolis Star 

Photograph:   Too late - the doctor walked away."


Unlike the previous year’s winner of a young boy looking up at a police officer, innocent and joyous -

the 1959 image of a young boy and a policeman is sad and awful. The boy, under a sheet covering his lifeless body, lies alone on the street, his mangled wagon nearby. 

According to the Pulitzer jury that made the award, it went to Seaman for his “dramatic photograph of the sudden death of a child in the street.” 

Seaman had been driving the streets looking for a newsworthy photograph for his paper. At a red light he watched a young boy, Ralph Leonard Fossum, aged 9, with a red wagon try to cross the busy street.. Having a son of the same age, Seaman’s attention had been drawn to him and Seaman warned him nit to cross because of the danger. The young boy retreated back to the curb and Seaman drove on. Moments later he heard on the police radio that a young boy had been killed by a garbage truck. Fearing the worst he rushed back and found that it was the same boy he had just spoken with. 

Seaman, born in 1925, had worked in a photographic studio whilst still at high school. In 1945 he commenced work with the Minneapolis Star and stayed with that newspaper until its closure in 1982. He was known for his action photography, especially his sports photographs. Following his retirement he took up oil painting, dying in 1997. 

Some comments about the photograph: 
  • This photograph would probably not be published today, as being too personal, invasive, graphic and sensationalist, especially in that it concerns the death of a young child. Contrast it, however, with some of the graphic images that were published after the Oklahoma and WTC bombings. 
  • The doctor walking away, the police officer standing away from the covered body, writing in his notepad, the women at the side with their backs to the body, which lies alone and unattended, all makes the scene even more poignant and the little boy’s death so lonely and so sad. 
  • Where were/are his parents? 
  • The eye is led into the scene by the mangled remains of Ralph’s wagon and directed to the covered body, the centre of the photograph. 
One final point: 

There is no doubt that winning a Pulitzer is a great honour, but does anyone else question whether a big smile in front of that photograph was appropriate . . . 

No World Press Photo award was given in 1959.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. That was my brother, my dad was at work and my Mom was nearby with one of my brothers, who was a baby at the time. They, of course, wouldn't let her anywhere near the scene at the time. I think it's sad someone can/would take advantage of such a terrible tragedy for personal gain. He wasn't crossing a busy road either, facts should have been checked before people write articles about subjects they know nothing about.


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