News & Features » Miscellany

The stories behind six Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs.

Iconic Images

by

comment
"Moment of Impact"
TNT
Debuts Sunday, July 18, at 8, 9:30 and 11 p.m.
Repeats July 21 at 1 a.m.

In 1883 he acquired the New York World, almost by the force of his will alone turning it into a major newspaper. It was his idea to introduce such innovations as sports pages, women's fashion sections, comics and illustrations. In his will, he donated $1 million to Columbia University for a school of journalism, which was founded in 1912. But despite all that, Joseph Pulitzer — a Hungarian who immigrated to the United States as the Civil War was ending — is remembered today primarily because of the awards he founded, the Pulitzer Prizes.

The Pulitzer Prizes are a series of 21 awards for outstanding achievements in drama, letters, music and journalism. The prizes have been awarded each year since 1917 by Columbia University on the recommendation of the Pulitzer Prize Board. The winners get $3,000 each, up from $500 originally.

It wasn't until 1942 that a category for newspaper photography was established. And it is seven winners of the photography award (and their six winning images), who are profiled in "Moment of Impact: The Stories Behind the Pulitzer Prize Photographs" on TNT this month.

The names of the winners have not stuck in the American consciousness — Stanley Forman of the Boston Herald American (1976), Don Ultang and John Robinson of the Des Moines Register (1952), Thomas Kelly III of the Pottstown (Pa.) Mercury (1979), Slava Veder of the Associated Press (1974), Annie Wells of the Santa Rosa (Cal.) Press Democrat (1997) and Robert Jackson of the Dallas Times Herald (1964). Only a few of their images remain fixed in our minds today. But each image profiled in "Moment of Impact" captured a moment that either shaped our world or reflected how we saw it.

There's no doubt about the impact of Robert Jackson's 1963 photograph: He captured that moment in the basement of the Dallas police station when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald to death.

It's easy, also, to assess the importance of Stanley Forman's 1976 prize winner. His picture showed the moment when the fire escape on the top floor of a burning Boston apartment house gave way and two people fell through the air. His breathtaking pictures led to tougher fire safety codes in Massachusetts and other states.

The four other pictures on which "Moment of Impact" focuses, while less dramatic, perhaps, are nonetheless powerful in their demonstration of how a single image can affect us.

The program, sad to say, fails to live up to the standards set by the seven photographers. From its cheesy title to the sometimes over-sensationalized way it tells the six stories, "Moment of Impact" gives the audience the sense that ghoulish interest trumps journalism in the minds of its producers.

It's hard to tarnish true excellence, however. So despite the program's flaws, it's worth watching, even if you do have to wade through a lot of muck to get to the prize

Add a comment