Award Winning Pictures

Stunning Pulitzer Prize-winning photos: The real stories

All it takes is a second for a photographer to snap a picture that could be the next Pulitzer Prize winner.

Right place, right time, right equipment, right photographer.

Suddenly the world has an image burned into our social consciousness.

We all know the picture: A wide-eyed Texas detective leaning back in surprise. Ruby pulling the trigger and Oswald — eyes closed, mouth open — being shot.

When Jackson's colleagues first saw the photo a few hours later, they knew it was destined for greatness, asking him, "How does it feel to win the Pulitzer?"

Surprisingly, there's no set criteria for a Pulitzer-winning photo. Each must be "distinguished, " according to the official website. Winners must be entered and pass through a nominating jury and a vote by the Pulitzer Prize board.

Together, Pulitzer-winning images have become a fascinating timeline of the past 73 years. "But it's not particularly a perfect timeline of history, " Buell said. "If I were to do a book of photographs that recorded a timeline of history, there would be some Pulitzer winners that would not be in there and there would be some that would be."

Buell's book reveals the amazing stories behind Pulitzer-winning images. "Pictures are a combination of serendipity, instinct and experience, " Buell said. "Of course a good photographer has all of these things going for him."

'Back off!'

Alan Diaz was in the right place at the right time in 2000. A little Cuban boy named Elian Gonzalez, who was found clinging to an inner tube in the Florida Straits, got caught up in an immigration dispute that gained global attention. U.S. officials decided to send Gonzalez back to his father in Cuba, against the wishes of his American relatives. Federal agents forced their way into the Miami home where Gonzalez was staying.

Inside, a few feet from the boy, Diaz waited for the right moment. The boy's family members had given Diaz permission to wait with Gonzalez for the impending raid. When an armed agent wearing riot gear entered the room, Diaz photographed him pointing a rifle at Gonzalez. As Diaz stepped closer, the agent warned, "Back off!"

Diaz did as he was told, but continued to take pictures. As the agent backed out of the room with Gonzalez in tow, the agent again forcefully repeated, "Back off!" The agents left the house and hours later, Gonzalez was back in Cuba.

A heartbreaking photo and suicide

In 1993, Kevin Carter stunned the world with his image of a vulture waiting patiently for a little girl to starve to death during a famine in Sudan.

While covering the famine, Carter wandered into a brushy area near a feeding station. He heard whimpering and discovered the little girl on the ground, too weak to move. When a vulture landed nearby, Carter snapped a few photos and then chased the bird away.

The resulting image "touched a global nerve, " according to the book.

Later, Carter's friends reported he was suffering from depression. The following year, after Carter learned the photo had won a Pulitzer, Carter's best friend was killed while covering violence in Johannesburg. In July 1994, Carter, age 33, killed himself by connecting a hose from his truck's exhaust pipe into the cab. A note Carter left behind said he was "haunted by unrelenting memories of killings, madmen with guns, starving children, corpses and pain, " according to Buell's book.

A five-story fall, frozen in time

Photographer Stanley Forman used his camera to essentially freeze an extremely dramatic moment in Boston. In 1975, a firefighter was trying to rescue a woman and her 2-year-old niece from the balcony of a burning building. When the balcony collapsed, the woman and child both fell five stories to the ground. Forman was there with his camera. "I watched everything give way through my lens as people and metal tumbled through the air, " Forman says in Buell's book. "I remember thinking I didn't want to see them hit."

Forman turned away and then looked up to see the firefighter dangling from a ladder and pulling himself to safety.

The woman died. Her niece miraculously survived because she fell on her aunt, which cushioned her landing.

"This picture never fails to draw a gasp, " Buell said. "The picture itself is the news; it shows that dramatic moment between life and death."

The photo is credited with spurring communities around the world to strengthen laws governing fire balcony safety.

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