Rising sea levels along United States coastlines, crowded refugee camps in Mexico, the lingering scars of war in Afghanistan. As we look back on a year of photojournalism supported by the Pulitzer Center, I'm struck by the ways these photos tell multiple stories. The story of Indigenous resistance to logging in the Amazon rainforest is not just an environmental story— it's also about trade, politics, land rights, and more. The story of a market in the West Bank is a story of food and culture, but also a story of access to land and critical natural resources.
The problems we face today are deeply interlinked. These are not single-issue stories, nor are they for a single audience. In order to understand the depth and breadth of climate change, migration, public health, and more, we need deep reporting on stories that serve the public good.
The Pulitzer Center invests more than $2 million a year to enable journalists to bring these complex issues to light, and must raise every dollar we spend. And this year, we're partnering with NewsMatch, who will match individual donations up to $1,000— will you support us?
Images like the ones below help us see and understand people across the world. I invite you to reflect with us on the stories these photos tell, and read through the reasons Pulitzer Center staff were moved by these images.
The more we realize that these stories affect us all, the better equipped we will be to serve humanity far and wide.
Conflict & Peacebuilding
Tom Hundley, Senior Editor: Modern warfare takes a heavy toll on civilians, especially women and children. Over the years, photographers on the frontlines have produced a remarkable body of work that captures the shocking destructive violence of warfare. What Adam Ferguson has done in his gallery of photos for The New Yorker is capture the lingering trauma. I was struck by Ferguson’s understated portrait of Haroon, a 12-year-old Afghan boy, the oldest male survivor of a raid on his home. It is the face of a stolen childhood.
Culture & Identity
Fareed Mostoufi, Senior Education Manager: This image by Brontë Wittpenn from MLive journalist Zahra Ahmad's intimate series on her journey to reconnect with her family in Iraq radiates with a joy that feels both personal and universal. As a child of immigrants from Iran, this image of pure affection feels so familiar and so beautifully expresses the Middle Eastern communities I grew up with. For me, it also acts as a reminder to notice and celebrate the love that continues to flourish in all communities despite the world's ongoing conflicts.
Economy & Trade
Jeff Barrus, Communications Director: In his work for "Dairyland in Distress," a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel project supported through the Pulitzer Center's Bringing Stories Home initiative, photographer Mark Hoffman shows Wisconsin dairy farmers living on the edge of financial collapse as global economic forces threaten to destroy the industry. In this photo, Emily Harris and her wife Brandi talk to a cattle buyer while several of their former herd eat for the last time on their farm. Emily and Brandi are smiling cheerfully, even though their dairy business is ending. Mark's photography catches farmers in gentle human moments like this—ordinary people, splattered with muck from hard work on the farm, living their lives with dignity in the face of difficult circumstances. The herd may be leaving, but the work doesn't end for Emily and Brandi.
Jon Sawyer, Executive Director: This luminous photograph by Sim Chi Yin projects beauty and mystery, the sense of something natural and harmonious. In fact it is neither. The photo captures a massive land reclamation project, one of many that is contributing to the world’s rapidly depleting reserves of sand, as Yin documents for Bloomberg Businessweek in "The Deadly Global War for Sand."
Environment & Climate Change
Ann Peters, University & Community Outreach Director: Why is it all doom and gloom? On climate change reporting that is often the question. I find Steve Ringman's photo of Savoonga villager Denny Akeya a hopeful one. A glint in his eye, peeking out behind a fat Pacific cod. Not what he’s fished for before, but he’s working to figure out this changing world. Now his son has returned to the community to build a life with his family there. Reading these stories in The Seattle Times about the Bering Sea, we should remember our futures are connected in this great big world of ours, and we need to seek out solutions together.
Libby Moeller, Intern: Alex MacLean’s images are stark representations of the threat already posed to our cities by sea level rise. In this photo published in Hakai Magazine, Egg Harbor Township is almost entirely surrounded by water. It represents a minute fraction of what we have to lose if we continue our inaction toward combating climate change.
Nora Moraga-Lewy, Rainforest Journalism Fund Coordinator: Marcio Pimenta’s photo captures part of a mischievous smile in the eyes of a Wampis child. The Wampis are adapting in the face natural resource extractivism, ever-changing politics and broken promises, and the impacts of a changing climate. This image, for Mongabay and National Geographic Brazil, makes me think about the burden that global institutions and discourse place on Indigenous communities and future generations to address the climate crisis for which they are least responsible. But it also represents resistance through existence and joy.
Claire Seaton, Multimedia Coordinator: This image by Mauricio Lima reminds me that climate change and migration are both incredibly complex and inextricably linked. The choice to cut firewood in deforested land, or to cross a border, is often motivated by far more complicated reasons than we in wealthy, powerful countries might fully grasp — reporting like this from The New Yorker helps us begin to understand those reasons.
Lucille Crelli, Communications Assistant: In Pablo Albarenga's photography, the Indigenous land defenders in Brazil are literally laying down their lives on the land that they are fiercely defending. This series from The Washington Post is beautifully shot and masterfully composed. By offering a bird’s eye view of both the activists and the topography side by side, Albarenga illuminates the intimate connection between the two in a way that I hadn't seen before.
Kem Sawyer, Contributing Editor: It was the bright pink of the cauliflower pickled with beets that drew me to student Reporting Fellow Carly Graf's photograph of a market in the West Bank. Palestinian farmers face tremendous difficulties in accessing land and water, yet they persevere. Here the produce is bountiful—a symbol of hope that shared food will bring together people of disparate beliefs.
Land & Property Rights
Peterson Njamunge, Office Assistant: This photo for Public Radio International by Kari Lyderson juxtaposes the local versus invasive new development in Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria. The local resident walking in the shrunken space feels like a powerful reminder of why we need to be more vigilant in protecting our personal and shared spaces from the threat of encroachment by an ever-expanding and unchecked digital economy.
Jackie Calderon, Editorial Assistant: Men, women, and children were made to wait at this makeshift refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico for their asylum hearings, set months into the future. This photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr. for The Texas Tribune captures the anxiety of migrants caught up in the U.S.-Mexico border crisis, complicated further by the "remain in Mexico" policy.
Indira Lakshmanan, Executive Editor: The desperate trail of human migration fueled by war, gang violence, poverty, and oppression is a defining story of our era. How rich nations treat those refugees will define us. The Associated Press this year took us along the perilous Rio Grande crossing into the squalor of camps at the southern border of the US, and led us through a gauntlet of horrors suffered by Africans as they cross Yemen for a better life. Fernando Llano's picture of handmade crosses and relics marking lives lost at a Mexican river crossing — even as more migrants brave the journey nonetheless — forces readers to reckon with the moral consequences of shutting doors on desperate neighbors.
Katie Brown, Intern: With immigration raids and deportations encouraged, many long-time residents have been kicked out of the United States. The Valdez family was deported after raising their family in Seattle, leaving them with emotional and financial strain. This photo by Erika Schultz for The Seattle Times highlights the ongoing pain and unwavering strength required to remain hopeful despite difficult circumstances.
Meerabelle Jesuthasan, Education Intern: In this photo for U.S. News and World Report, a beautician in Canaan, Haiti, manicures the nails of her assistant in the salon she hopes to turn into a chain across the region eventually. Allison Shelley's photojournalism on this city without access to government resources or infrastructure illustrates a society building itself after devastation. I was struck by the questions raised by this project, which also touched on the role—often either absent or detrimental—of the government and international aid: what does it mean to have access, to have a community, and what does it take to build those?
Fernanda Peréz, Intern: These asylum-seekers in Tijuana dry their clothes the same way I helped my grandma do so in our own border city. As my hometown of El Paso, Texas and the rest of the border region has become a place where human rights are constantly violated in an attempt to uphold a constructed idea of what a country should look like at the expense of human lives, Omar Ornela captures the complexity of the cross-border crisis for The Desert Sun.
Steve Sapienza, Senior Stategist, Collaborative News Partnerships: To photograph snakes, you have to go where snakes live. Hugh Kinsella Cunningham traveled up the Congo river and its tributaries to report for the BBC and The Guardian on snake bites — an under-reported health threat that, according to the World Health Organization, results in between 81,000 and 138,000 deaths worldwide each year. Cunningham reports that a lack of knowledge regarding basic treatments and poor access to anti-venom means that venomous snakes pose a severe threat to remote communities, especially those whose daily work by rivers and fields places them in snake habitats.
Mark Schulte, Education Director: Monika Bulaj's image, part of a story for Granta on the Hazara Shia in Afghanistan, captures a sense of perseverance under stress, and does so with grace and humanity.
Holly Piepenburg, Outreach Coordinator: “I do this work so my kids don’t go to bed hungry,” says Mpayon Loboitong’o, a mother of three. Lynn Johnson's National Geographic photo reminds me of my mother, who continues to make many sacrifices in her personal and professional life in order to make sure her three children, myself included, are healthy and happy.
Hannah Berk, Education Coordinator: In "Días Eternos," Ana María Arévalo focuses her camera on one of Venezuela's most disenfranchised populations: its incarcerated women, who spend months and sometimes years warehoused in overcrowded cells awaiting trial. Her photo project for The New York Times is a portrait of how the collapse of civil society affects the most vulnerable, and an indictment of the use of jails and prisons as a means of containing problems they are unequipped to solve.
Nathalie Applewhite, Managing Director: Lilias Diria was gang raped trying to escape the civil war in South Sudan in 2016, leaving her pregnant with Abraham. Reporting for Glamour, Adriane Ohanesian has captured a loving tenderness layered with heaviness in the gaze between this mother and son — a tension shared by women survivors of sexualized violence around the world.
Karen Oliver, Director of Finance & Administration: I lived in Pakistan between 2005 and 2008, and friends and family marveled that we were there with our young daughters. Their stereotypes about the country and the people made that seem scary. But as these photos by Sara Hylton for National Geographic show, it is a beautiful country with inspiring women working to change their society.
Many thanks to the talented photojournalists — all grantees — featured here! Your work is crucial in this time of threats against freedoms of the press and information. Help us support more photojournalists—give to the Pulitzer Center before December 31, 2019, and your gift will automatically be doubled by NewsMatch!