Even college students born with cellphone cameras at their disposal and raised on Instagram cannot look away. In a world of digital overload, the power of oversized, wall-mounted Pulitzer Prize-winning photos is that strong.
Response to the exhibit “Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs,” now at FIU’s Frost Art Museum, made clear that young people see the value in spending time with the world’s most celebrated news images, thought-provoking and often gut-wrenching as they are.
“I got the chills and my eyes watered,” chemistry major David Garcia said in describing his reaction to a 1983 photo that depicts a woman sobbing as she embraces the tombstone of an American soldier.
Political science major Andrea Piloto found the exhibit educational. “Not only is it aesthetic, but I just learned a lot of history by reading the descriptions of the pictures,” she said. “At the same time the pictures are very moving.”
Such words don’t surprise Raul Reis, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, which is presenting the exhibit.
“We worked hard for almost two years to bring this show to FIU and Miami because we knew our students had to see it,” Reis said. “To be able to witness the positive impact that the photos are having on our students and all visitors validates all the effort we put into it.”
One hundred sixty-six images taken over 72 years chronicle highlights and lowlights, world events and personal moments. Among the subjects: a Sudanese child on the verge of death from hunger who is being eyed by a vulture (1993); a federal agent pointing a 9 mm submachine gun at 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez (2000); a Jewish settler on Palestinian land resisting Israeli security forces (2006); a 12-year-old girl in Kabul screaming after a bomb killed the children around her (2011).
Making the viewer’s experience even more poignant are the brief stories that accompany each picture. Many of them are the photographers’ own recollections of the events leading up to their photos.
John Kaplan, who attended the exhibit opening and will return next month to the Frost for a related panel discussion, won a Pulitzer in 1992 for a photo essay depicting the diverse lifestyles of seven 21-year-olds across the United States.
He believes the Pulitzer photos resonate with viewers because the images offer a glimpse of truth—a sometimes-rare commodity in the age of social media.
“I think we have a danger right now in general, throughout our society, not just with younger people, where time is being spent slightly in an unbalanced way. Too much escapism, not enough information,” Kaplan said. “I think good things happen in society when we’re well-informed. We right the wrongs. We find the balance.”
The 1972 photo of Kim Phuc—the Vietnamese girl running naked after being burned by the chemical agent napalm—would have a lifelong impact on then-12-year-old Kaplan, who went so far as to tack up a poster of the image in his family’s rec room. Years later he met Phuc at an exhibit in New York and eventually shared with her a series of pictures he took of torture victims in West Africa.
“I wanted to be sure,” Kaplan recalled of his work. “Is it helpful, or is it just what I call ‘photojournalistic pornography?’ I didn’t know, but I thought it could effect change.
“So I sent it to Kim Phuc, who by that time was a mother of young children living in Toronto and starting a foundation for children who were victims of war. She responded so positively that the work had to be shown and seen,” Kaplan said. “That picture [of Phuc] means that much more to me because I was able to form a relationship with her, and great respect, many decades after she was a victim of war herself. Personally, it means a lot.”
“Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs” will be on display at the Frost Art Museum through April 20. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (with late hours on select Wednesdays) and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free. For information about museum events, including those related to the photo exhibit, click here.