Sunday, December 20, 2015

Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography, 1981


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).
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Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography, 1981:

Photographer: Taro Yamasaki


Photograph: Photographs of Jackson State Prison, Michigan

Comments:
  • Taro Yamasaki was born in Detroit in 1945 of Japanese parents, his father being an architect who designed the World Trade Centre. Yamasaki developed an interest in photography when his younger brother built a darkroom at home. His enrolment in a journalism course at university saw him taking photographs for the department newspaper but he dropped out and a succession of jobs followed. Eventually he was a staff photographer for Detroit Free Press, where he was given the okay to originate, research, write and document his own stories.
  • The first story he conceived of on his own was a documentation of the daily lives of inmates in Michigan State Prison, aka Jackson Prison, the largest walled prison in the world. Yamasaki’s story, "Jackson Prison: Armed and dangerous", was researched, written and photographed solely by him. 
  • Yamasaki had spent 10 days talking to the prison warden, officials, guards and inmates, even convincing the guards to let him travel virtually anywhere in the prison unescorted. This was against the prison rules but, according to Yamasaki, the guards allowed him to do this because they wanted him to portray the great danger of their jobs as accurately as possible.
  • Yamasaki’s article focused on the inhumane conditions in which the inmates lived and the problems of overcrowding, violence and contraband. His unaccompanied interviews won the trust of inmates who confided items that they might otherwise kept silent, wanting him to portray the danger and inhumanity of their lives.
  • The photographs accompanying the article won Yamasaki the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography.
  • Yamasaki is today a freelance magazine photojournalist who has covered hundreds of documentary subjects, often his subjects being children, living with the threats of poverty, disease, natural disasters, and armed conflict.
Images:


Harold Pike, who rode with the Outriders, sits in his cell in 8 Block. Over half the doors in his cellblock can be opened with a flat object such as a can top.


Some 1981 prison facts:
  • Jackson Prison covers 21 hectares (52 acres) and has 5,700 inmates.
  • In 1981 the prison was seriously understaffed, 2 officers guarding 350 inmates at a time, sometimes that being only one officer.
  • The officers did not wear or carry guns in case they were overpowered and the firearms taken.
  • Ironically most of the prisoners were armed.
  • Prison officers were reluctant to enforce the prison rules because they were often attacked when they did so.

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