April 15th, 2016

How Winning Three Pulitzers Changed William Snyder’s Career

From William Snyder's Pulitzer Prize-winning story about subhuman conditions in Romanian orphanages. ©William Snyder

From William Snyder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story about subhuman conditions in Romanian orphanages. ©William Snyder

In anticipation of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize announcements on Monday, we talked to photographers who have won in the past about how the prize affected their careers. Today, William Snyder talks about his experience as a three-time Pulitzer winner during his tenure as a staff photographer at the Dallas Morning News. In 1989, he shared the prize for Explanatory Journalism with two colleagues. In 1991, he won the Feature Photography prize for his story about children living in subhuman conditions in Romanian orphanages. He shared the 1993 prize for Spot News with colleague Ken Geiger for their coverage of the 1992 Summer Olympics. Snyder also led the Dallas Morning News photo team that won 2006 Breaking News Photography prize for coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Snyder is currently chair of the photojournalism program at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

PDN: What went through your mind the first time you won a Pulitzer?
William Snyder: I was really excited. It’s one of those things you dream of. My little tiny disappointment was that it wasn’t in photography, but that’s just being selfish.

PDN: How did the subsequent wins compare?
WS: The [second] one was for a story I did on Romanian orphans that was near and dear to my heart, that I really worked hard on, and it was all my story. I could die happy. I felt like I accomplished something.

William Snyder, in his "lucky" Pulitzer shirt, celebrates in 2006 with the Dallas Morning News photo team that won the prize for Breaking News Photography. ©Mei-Chun Jau/Dallas Morning News

William Snyder, in his “lucky” Pulitzer shirt, celebrates with the Dallas Morning News photo team that won the 2006 prize for Breaking News Photography. ©Mei-Chun Jau/Dallas Morning News

PDN: Does winning the Pulitzer go to your head–not your head, of course, but a photographer’s head?
WS: On the eve of winning the first one, I was talking to the executive editor. He said to me, “Grace and humility William, after this happens.” I said, “If you’re worried about that, I can’t be any bigger of an asshole than I already am.”

We all know stories that have been great, and photographs that have been fantastic, that haven’t won. Is there luck involved? Are there things that are out of your control that are involved? Absolutely.  What I learned was:  You don’t rest on your laurels. You’ve got to keep working, day in and day out.

PDN: Is there a burden to winning?
WS: I’ve heard of people who win once and they’re frozen, because they’re so afraid that everyone’s going to be looking at them to produce something of Pulitzer quality every time they walk out the gate. There’s only a burden if you let there be a burden.

PDN: Did you always dream of winning the Pulitzer? Was that the Holy Grail for you?
WS: It wasn’t the Holy Grail, but it was pretty close. I never won Photographer of the Year in POY. This is the sick thing about me: I feel incomplete because I never won that. That should tell you about me: I was never satisfied. That’s the kind of person I am. [As journalists] we want to do great work, but we want the medals, because the medals live even longer than the great work.

PDN: What do you mean?
WS: There are people who you know as “Pulitzer Prize winner” and you have never seen their work. You’ve never read their book, seen their play, heard their music, but you see that phrase, and you know they’re good.

PDN: Is the Pulitzer as coveted as it used to be, after the decimation of the newspaper business? Does it have the cache that it used to?
WS: I think more so now. [Now] it’s difficult to win for a picture you happen upon. Most Pulitzers now are for involved stories, whether they’re news or features, right? So if you win a Pulitzer now, you’ve put in the time. You’ve done a great story. In an age when many media companies say “good enough is good enough,” the Pulitzer is still the high water mark, the beacon.

PDN: Did anything change for you after you won?
WS: The first one, absolutely not.

PDN: How about the second one?
WS: There were a ton of offers for lectures, workshops and freelance gigs. My boss just said, “Do ‘em.” Also it was the main reason I was accepted as a Michigan Journalism Fellow (now called the Knight-Wallace Fellowships) and why I was chosen as the inaugural James Burke Fellow.

Things really changed after I won the third Pulitzer. My boss and I got along better. There wasn’t this constant conflict. I just wanted to be able to work. That was the best thing about it: Just to be able to do the work, and be supported. From 1993 to 1998, when I stopped shooting, those were the four or five best years of my career because I was supported and listened to. Did I get what I wanted all the time? Absolutely not.

PDN: Why did you give up the shooting?
WS: There was no one reason. I was traveling a lot back then. I was getting burnout, and I had two young boys I wanted to see grow up and spend some time with. I got to the point where I saw nothing on the horizon—no story that I wanted to do–and my boss was pushing me to be an editor.

PDN: What’s your advice to this year’s Pulitzer winners?
WS: Enjoy it, and then go back to work. If you watch the end of Patton [1971 Oscar winner for Best Picture], he’s talking about how in the old days, there’d be this great parade, and the triumphant warrior would come in with the adjutant standing behind [him], holding the golden crown over his head, and whispering in his ear, “All glory is fleeting.” And that’s it: Enjoy it, and then you gotta go back to work.

Related:
How Winning a Pulitzer Changed Deanne Fitzmaurice’s Career

January 23rd, 2014

AP Severs Ties with Photographer Narciso Contreras Over Photoshopped Image

Courtesy of AP Photos

Courtesy of AP Photos

Associated Press (AP) has severed ties with freelance photographer Narciso Contreras for altering a news photograph he shot in Syria, the wire service has announced. Contreras was part of a team of AP photographers that shared the Pulitzer Prize last year for coverage of the Syrian civil war.

AP reports that Contreras “recently told its editors that he manipulated a digital picture of a Syrian rebel fighter taken last September.” The image shows the rebel fighter taking cover in a rugged landscape. Contreras altered the image by removing from the scene a video camera sitting on the ground near the soldier.

Santiago Lyon, AP’s director of photography, said the alteration “involved a corner of the image with little news importance,” but it was nevertheless a breach of AP’s standards. “Deliberately removing elements from our photographs is completely unacceptable,” Lyon said.

AP says the altered image was not part of AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning portfolio.

Contreras said he removed the video camera from the image in question because he thought it would distract viewers, according to the AP report.

“I took the wrong decision when I removed the camera … I feel ashamed about that,” he said. “You can go through my archives and you can find that this is a single case that happened probably at one very stressed moment, at one very difficult situation, but yeah, it happened to me, so I have to assume the consequences.”

Contreras, who is 38, began his career freelancing for newspapers in Mexico, but made his reputation with his coverage of the war in Syria. Time Lightbox showcased his work in December, 2012.

“[Contreras] has managed to illuminate and distill the horrors of the…war — more consistently than any of his often more-experienced peers,” Time senior photo editor Phil Bicker wrote in a story that accompanies the 44-image gallery. “What makes Contreras’s work in Syria even more astonishing is the fact that he has, in a sense, come out of nowhere to emerge as the one photographer whose work will likely be seen as the photographic record of the conflict.”

AP says it has removed all of Contreras’s images from its archives. There were about 500 in all. AP says it has compared as many as it could to Contreras’s original image files, and found no other instances of alteration.