Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pulitzer and World Press Photo of the Year, continued: 1977,Part 1

Between 1942 and 1967 a Pulitzer Prize for Photography was awarded for photojournalism, that is, for photographs telling a news story. In 1968 that award was replaced by awards in two new categories:

  •  the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography (photography in the nature of breaking news, as it has been called since 2000); and
  • the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography (human interest and matters associated with new items).
From 1955 World Press Photo has awarded prizes for the best photographs in 10 categories, with an overall award for the image that "... is not only the photojournalistic encapsulation of the year, but represents an issue, situation or event of great journalistic importance, and does so in a way that demonstrates an outstanding level of visual perception and creativity".

Award: Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography, 1977

Photographer: Stanley Forman, Boston Herald-American

Photograph: “The Soiling of Old Glory”.

Award: Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography, 1977

Photographer: Neal Ulevich, Associated Press

Photograph: A series of photographs of disorder and brutality in the streets of Bangkok.

The jury couldn’t select a winner for breaking news photography from the two finalists above and awarded both the shared first prize.

The Soiling of Old Glory:

Forman had won in the same category the previous year for his sequence of photographs of a fire escape collapse during a Boston fire.

In 1976, busing, the forced integration of schools by making selected white students attend previously black schools, and selected black students attend previously white schools, remained a divisive and emotive issue in Boston. Covering a political protest at busing outside Boston’s City Hall, Forman snapped the pic that would earn him a second, consecutive Pulitzer.

The photograph depicts white teenager, Joseph Rakes, trying to assault black lawyer and civil-rights activist Ted Landsmark with a flagpole bearing the American flag. According to Landsmark, Rakes was swinging the flag and trying to hit him, not trying to spear him as it appears in the photo, and he narrowly missed. Anti-bussing activist Jim Kelly appears to pin Landsmark's arms behind him but was actually helping Landsmark to his feet, Landsmark having been knocked to the ground and his nopse broken before rakes swung the flag at him. Kelly later positioned himself between Landsmark and the other protestors to protect Landsmark.

That photograph, "The Soiling of Old Glory," soon became one of the most widely known images in modern American history. . . snapped in the historic cradle of American liberty during the bicentennial year, [it] directly challenged America's self-definition as a virtuous country devoted to freedom.”

“The attack on Landsmark happened during America’s bicentennial — and in Boston, of all places, that cradle of liberty, a stone’s throw from where black martyr Crispus Attucks was shot down. Americans fed a steady diet of Selma and Birmingham and Montgomery and Little Rock were forced to acknowledge that a Northern city could be every bit as riven by race.”
-Louis Bayard 

A 2008 book by Louis Masur looked at the photograph, the surrounding issues and the players:

From Masur’s book:

Some two hundred white students assembled for the march to city hall plaza. they attended for every reason, and for no reason at all: they despised forced busing, they hated blacks, they feared change, they followed their parents' lead, they welcomed days off from school, they wanted to hang out with their friends, they felt like they were part of a group. "We all wanted to belong to something big," recalls one teenage protester, "and the feeling of being part of the anti-busing movement along with the rest of southie had been the best feeling in the world." Southie meant more than just the geographic place South Boston. it meant neighborhood and community and ethnic pride. Thinking of the long day ahead, some packed a snack. Some made signs that said "RESIST." One student, before leaving his third-floor South Boston apartment,grabbed the family's American flag. 
From the start, the anti-busing movement identified itself with patriotism. the activists saw themselves as defending their liberty against the tyranny of a judge run amok. The celebration of Bicentennial events in 1975 and 1976 only reinforced the idea that they were carrying on in a tradition of American resistance; one anti-busing group had as its motto "don't tread on me." At rallies and boycotts, protesters carried American flags and frequently sang "God Bless America." Protesters against the Vietnam War had often burned Old Glory, but not here, not among the mainly working-class UIish of Boston.

Ted Landsmark was late to a meeting. A lawyer for the Contractors' Association, he was headed to City Hall for discussions on minority hiring in construction jobs. Dressed well on this mild April morning, he was wearing a favorite three-piece suit, and enjoying the brisk walk. 
The protesters spotted Landsmark and turned on him. One went to trip him up. A couple of them yelled "get the nigger." A few of the anti-busing protesters at the front jumped him. He was being kicked and punched. another unidentified black man hurried away from the scene. 
The flag bearer, Joseph Rakes of South Boston, circled around and began to swing the flag at Landsmark.

Age 17, Rakes had loved school but had stopped going entirely a year into the protests against busing. He worked part time to help his parents pay the bills, which now included tuition to send his older siblings to a private academy formed to educate those students who refused to attend South Boston or Charlestown High School. Rakes' anger at a situation beyond his control was never far from the surface. He attended most rallies against busing and, on this day, he rushed into the fracas. Some officers of the police mobile operations patrol and some adults intervened, but too late. The incident lasted maybe fifteen or twenty seconds. Landsmark's glasses were shattered and his nose broken. He was left drifting, bloodied and dazed.

Landsmark told a writer who wondered how this could happen to such a well-educated and well-respected person that "I couldn't put my Yale degree in front of me to protect myself. The thing that is most troubling is that it happened not because I was somebody but because I was anybody. ... I was just a nigger they were trying to kill." To another reporter Landsmark said, "I was just out there walking to City Hall in my three-piece suit. I was anyone." And suddenly, someone tried "to kill me with the American flag."

The Players:

Stephen Forman:

“I saw this black man coming around the corner and a bell went off in my head, and I said, ‘They’re going to get him!’ I didn’t think they would get him with the flag.”

Stephen Forman collected another Pulitzer in 1979.

He wrote his own book, released in 2013, “Before Yellow Tape” (a reference to police tape at crime and accident scenes).

Today, everybody’s got a camera and the access is not good. People ask how I got a photo [inside an ambulance] and I say, “Well, I opened the door and I took the photo.” You’d get shot nowadays. We [used to be] a welcome sight and it was great.
This book reflects a different time where you could be at a murder scene, shooting the body, and the cops would be posing. I don’t want to say we’ve become the enemy but we have. 
It’s scary. How many photographers do you really need when you’ve got millions out there working for you, for nothing? Everybody’s got a camera or a phone. The quality might not be good but [it doesn’t matter]. You can’t win, you can’t be first anymore.

Joseph Rakes

When the busing started, it was, ‘You can’t have half your friends’—that’s the way it was put towards us. They took half the guys and girls I grew up with and said, ‘You’re going to school on the other side of town.’ Nobody understood it at [age] 15.”

Rakes was sentenced to a 2 year suspended sentence for the assault on Landsmark and 2 years probation. In 1983 he fled Boston when he was wanted for beating to death the brother of hios girlfriend. He returned to Boston in 1988, the murder charge was dropped and he worked at menial jobs. He resented the adverse publicity he had been subject to and the tag he had been given, “The Flag Kid”. He subsequently married, had a family and improved his employment situation.

James Kelly:

Kelly, who recently died, devoted his life to serving South Boston, the working-class district of the city that most resisted court-ordered busing. After his election to the City Council in 1983, he gained the respect of other politicians from across the city for his tireless advocacy on behalf of his constituents. Masur contends that Kelly, who never hesitated to voice his suspicions of grand liberal projects, came to support equal rights for all.

Theodore Landsmark:

Landsmark, a Yale-educated lawyer then 29, was late for a meeting on affirmative action in city construction projects. As he walked toward city hall, he was mulling over what he planned to say, when a crowd rounded a corner and suddenly approached him.

“There wasn’t anything for me to do at that point other than to walk straight,”

Landsmark stayed in Boston, fighting racism and bigotry in whatever ways he could. In the late 1980s and through the 1990s, he worked for various to improve race relations in the city. Today Landsmark is president of the Boston Architectural College, and though he knows he is a public symbol of the battle over busing, he wants Bostonians to focus on the possibilities of the present and the future. 

Though Landsmark acknowledges that Forman’s photograph led him to a “leadership role” on issues of race and economics, he also says he’s tired of being asked about it. “What I find somewhat annoying, after all this time is that that single photograph sometimes overshadows many of the actual accomplishments that I’ve been involved with.”

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