Three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Michel du Cille died on Thursday while on assignment in Liberia for the Washington Post. The New York Times reports that the photojournalist was documenting the Ebola crisis, along with reporter Justin Jouvenal, when he collapsed during a hike and suffered an apparent heart attack. Though he was driven to a local hospital – two hours away – the 58-year0old was declared dead.
Addressing the staff at the Washington Post, Executive Editor Martin Baron announced the news.
“We are all heartbroken. We have lost a beloved colleague and one of the world’s most accomplished photographers.
“He was completely devoted to the story of Ebola, and he was determined to stay on the story despite its risks. That is the sort of courage and passion he displayed throughout his career.”
That career encompassed three Pulitzer Prizes – the first two of which were achieved while working at the Miami Herald in the 1980s. In 1986, he shared the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography with Miami Herald staff photographer Carol Guzy for coverage of the eruption of Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz volcano. In 1988, he won the Feature Photography Pulitzer Prize for a project about cocaine addiction in a Miami housing project.
Having joined the Washington Post in 1988, he became photo editor from 2005, but soon returned to the field as senior photographer, sharing his third Pulitzer – for public service – with reporters Anne Hull and Dana Priest. Their investigative project focusing on Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and the quality of care and treatment for veterans provided there, sparked a national debate on a hitherto largely ignored subject.
As a holder of a Bachelor of Journalism from Indiana University and a Masters in Journalism from Ohio University, Mr. du Cille was keen to work with students and share his expertise. He had been invited to speak at a workshop held in October at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in Ohio, where he and his wife – Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Nikki Kahn – would participate in sessions reviewing portfolios. However, when a student expressed concern about Mr. du Cille’s recent return from Liberia, the university cancelled the invitation – despite Mr. du Cille’s completion of a quarantine period of 21 days. During that time, he exhibited no symptoms. While the university cited their responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their students, Mr. du Cille expressed dismay at the decision.
“It’s a disappointment to me. I’m p**sed off and embarrassed and completely weirded out that a journalism institution that should be seeking out facts and details is basically pandering to hysteria.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Maybe I can talk to them and walk them through how you catch Ebola.’ But none of that mattered in the end. The most disappointing thing is that the students at Syracuse have missed that moment to learn about the Ebola crisis, using someone that has been on the ground and seen it up close. But they chose to pander to hysteria.”
Writing about his experience covering the crisis, Mr. du Cille articulated the emotional toll of documenting the horror.
“It is profoundly difficult not to be a feeling human being while covering the Ebola crisis. Sometimes the harshness of a gruesome scene simply cannot be sanitised… But I believe that the world must see the horrible dehumanising effects of Ebola. The story must be told; so one moves around with tender care, gingerly, without extreme intrusion.”
The Washington Post reports that Michel du Cille had returned to Liberia on Tuesday, having taken a four-week break. He is survived by his wife, Nikki Kahn, and two children from a previous marriage.
[Image via Google]