Our brush with the P.P.

Not long after I got to work on Monday, a note went out to the newsroom to gather at the photo desk. Three of our photographers were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography, and the winners were just being named. Our entry collected a bunch of fun, interesting and offbeat shots from last fall’s California recall.

We should’ve had a decent shot at the top prize … I was a bit indignant to learn that the L.A. Times won the feature photography P.P. for pictures it had taken in Liberia. Ours was not a war zone, but the recall was relevant to everybody in the state, whereas civil war No. 13,437 in a failed African state was relevant to however many Liberians managed to escape the carnage and land safely within the Times’ circulation area. Something felt downright unjust about our pictures losing to theirs.

Then I went to the Times Web site to see if their pictures were posted, and all the self-righteousness seeped right out of me. Our pix were nice, but they were nothing like theirs. Here’s a link to the winning pix at the Pulitzer site.

Carolyn Cole, the Times shooter who won the big prize, got so close to the action that it’s amazing she made it back alive. She has women fleeing the violence, men cheerfully firing off their AK-47s, children huddled and afraid. Before I saw the pictures, I figured, “Right, I’ve seen a million civil war shots like this.” But when I started clicking through Cole’s entries, I discovered an immediacy and an intimacy that hit like a fist to the chest. Photography this telling is exceedingly rare.

Now that I’ve seen the winner I feel better about the contest and proud to work with people whose work came that close to winning. Top three in this contest was excellent company.

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