Alumnus’ photos help N.Y. Times win Pulitzer

Becky Bowman

Half of The New York Times’ first Pulitzer Prize for photography belongs to Medill alumnus Vincent Laforet.

Photos by Laforet, a former Daily staffer who spent two months in Pakistan following Sept. 11, composed almost half the feature photography portfolio submitted by the Times. The newspaper also won in the category of breaking-news photography.

“The Pulitzer is always huge, but it’s also huge for the Times in that it’s the first,” said Laforet, Medill ’97. “There are people there who have been waiting for more than 30 years, 40 years, for someone or a group of people to win. It will allow our staff to enjoy many more opportunities in the future.”

The Pulitzers announced Monday could influence the Times to keep higher numbers of photographers overseas, the 27-year-old said. The newspaper currently has four photographers abroad, a higher number than ever before, Laforet said.

“It’s just opening the floodgates, because the Times has always been seen as a writer’s paper,” Laforet said. “We’ve proven to people inside and outside the paper that we’re just as important a part as the words side, and we have a lot to contribute. Using photos and words together is still one of the best formulas out there for conveying a story.”

Any excitement about the awards, however, is tainted by Laforet’s memory of the events that precipitated it and their aftermath, he said.

Laforet was in Paris on Sept. 11 and quickly received orders to board a flight for Pakistan. During his two-month stay in Pakistan, he had run-ins with the local authorities, including an incident where he had to outrun police officers after photographing the body of a young boy.

Laforet worked to create a comprehensive view of Pakistan, he said.

“There were understandably angry people in America who did not hesitate to declare war on Afghanistan,” Laforet said. “But our job is to show that there are people on the other side of those bombs, many of whom are as innocent as those in New York were. You can’t lose sight of that.”

Since journalists were kept out of Afghanistan and away from borders during the time Laforet was in Pakistan, he said he focused on photographing life behind the front lines, including children and opium users. Most of Osama bin Laden’s funding comes from opium sales, he said.

Children, he said, brought a rare glimpse of light to the country.

“They were the only positive things you saw,” Laforet said. “Children seem to be the only ones who showed a sign of hope at the time.

“They have a love of life that makes them able to live their lives, even though the world feels like it’s coming to an end.”

The Pulitzer serves not as a sign for a break but as an encouragement to keep working, he said.

“What’s funny is that when it happened, I was already thinking of what I was going to shoot the next day, ” he said. “If anything, it’s not a chance to rest on your laurels. It’s an incentive to work even harder. … I’m ready to do more.”

Laforet won’t be leaving any time soon, however, to cover locations abroad – he got engaged to be married last week, rounding out what he calls “the most amazing six months” of his life.

“I would love to go to Israel right now,” he said. “But at the same time, I just got engaged, and I don’t think I’m ready to get shot at yet, and neither is my fiancee.”