The below 30 pics won the Pulitzer Prize for photography and not without a reason. These photos are history and the photographers portray events that were inspiring, uplifting, or even unexpected and shocking.
Pulitzer Prize Award-winning photographs often have a tendency to catch the attention of spectators for their critical and challenging content as well as provoking very different reactions. Numerous great photographers each year submit their work for the Pulitzer Prize, which showcases and celebrates outstanding achievements.
All photos are linked and lead to the sources from which they were taken. Please feel free to explore further works of these photographers on their collections or their personal sites.
#1 1968 “Kiss Of Life”
Image Source: Rocco Morabito
This photo had a quite dramatic background as the photographer, Rocco Morabito, was driving as he spotted an electrician hanging upside down on his safety belt struck by 4,160 volts of electricity. He called an ambulance and in the meantime, another lineman climbed up and successfully rescued his colleague by performing mouth-to-mouth and, well, Morabito was there to snap the shot of the scene winning the spot news prize.
#2 1966 “Flee To Safety”
Image Source: Kyoichi Sawada
Another entry by a foreign photographer was the image of a South Vietnamese mother and children trying to swim across the river to escape the assault Operation Piranha. Once Kyochi Sawada’s picture won that year, he searched for the families in the actual photo and gave them half of the prize money.
#3 1958 “Faith And Confidence”
Image Source: William C. Beall
An image of police officer Maurice Cullinane and two-year-old boy Allen Weaver during a parade in Chinatown, Washington, DC. The policeman had warned the young boy against getting too close to the dragons, and that’s when William C. Beall caught the conversation on film and the Pulitzer Prize Board called it “an appealing picture which made a profound impression on readers.”
#4 1963 “Aid From The Padre”
Image Source: Hector Rondón
The jurors admired the way drama, impact, and composition coexisted in this image taken by Hector Rondon. It is an image showing a wounded soldier pulling himself up to the priest. Rondon himself wasn’t sure how he managed to take the picture as the setting was quite rough: bullets flying around as it was taken during a rebellion of marines at a naval base close to Caracas, Venezuela that the photographer found out about.
#5 1973 The Terror Of War
Image Source: Nick Ut
Nick Ut began taking pictures at the age of 16. Being injured 3 times himself, he carried on covering the Vietnam War and won the prize for this picture showing a 9-year-old naked Phan Thi Kim Phuc running towards the camera after a South Vietnamese napalm attack. Ut took her and other children to the hospital, where she ended up staying for 14 months, going through 17 surgeries, before finally returning home.
#6 1969 “Coretta Scott King”
Image Source: Moneta Sleet Jr.
A photo of Coretta Scott King and her daughter Bernice in a moment of grief during Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in April, 1968 was taken by Moneta Sleet Jr. The day before the assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. assured his supporters that he was not afraid to die and that racial oppression could be defeated in the future.
#7 1944 “Homecoming.”
Image Source: Earle Bunker
To take the “Homecoming” photo, Earle Bunker had to arm himself with patience for over 24 hours, waiting for the train that Lieutenant Colonel Robert Moore was coming back on after serving in WW2. Having been away from his family for 16 months, the soldier was reunited with his family and Bunker captured the very moment of it.
#8 1976 “Fire Escape Collapse”
Image Source: Stanley Forman
This Pulitzer Prize for photography winner by Stanley Forman immortalized the moment of a 19-year-old and her two-year-old goddaughter falling from the fire escape of a burning apartment in Boston that actually led to the adoption of new fire escape laws in the US. The little girl survived the fall as she landed on the godmother, who died hours later from multiple injuries.
#9 1954 “Rescue On Pit River Bridge”
Image Source: Virginia Schau
The first woman and the second amateur photographer to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Photography award, Virginia Schau, took a dramatic image on her Kodak Brownie camera that had only two exposures left on the roll. As she was taking her parents out for a day of fishing, they witnessed a truck accident that left the cab dangling 40 ft from Pit River Bridge. One of the people who helped to save the drivers was actually her husband.
#10 1951 “Flight Of Refugees Across Wrecked Bridge In Korea”
Image Source: Max Desfor
Max Desfor was on photographer’s duty travelling with the American frontline troops during the war between North Korea and South Korea. On December 4th, 1950, while driving around Pyongyang, he noticed a bombed bridge that had hundreds of war refugees trying to make it across to the other side of the Taedong river. It was very cold and Max recalls that he could barely press the shutter button because of the freezing temperatures.
#11 1945 “Raising The Flag On Iwo Jima”
Image Source: Joe Rosenthal
More than iconic, this image happened to be surrounded by controversy regarding its authenticity. It was taken by Joseph Rosenthal during the final stages of the Pacific War, showing US Marines raising the flag on top of Mount Suribachi, the island of Iwo Jima. And it was so difficult to reach the point that the photographers started to doubt whether it was even worth it. “As the trail became steeper, our panting progress slowed to a few yards at a time. I began to wonder and hope that this was worth the effort, when suddenly, over the brow of the topmost ridge, we could spy men working with the flagpole they had so laboriously brought up about quarters of an hour ahead of us.“.
#12 1955 “Tragedy By The Sea”
Image Source: John L. Gaunt
John L. Gaunt immortalized a tragedy of two parents by a rough sea realizing that they had just lost their child. The McDonalds were walking along the waves as their son Michael played nearby and crawled into the waves without them noticing.
#13 1964 “Ruby Shoots Oswald”
Image Source: Robert H. Jackson
Photographer Robert Hill Jackson was to cover the transportation of Lee Harvey Oswald to the country jail after being sentenced with the murder of President John F. Kennedy. As the action took place in the basement of Dallas police and courts building, Jackson had to strategically position himself to get the best shot possible, which he thought was obstructed by a man who, a moment later, jumped and fired a shot at Oswald as Jackson pressed the shutter button.
#14 1960 “Last Rites Of Jose Rodriguez”
Image Source: Andrew Lopez
Former soldier Jose Rodriguez was among thousands of other people executed by the forces led by Fidel Castro. Here he is being given his final rites as he was sentenced to death by a firing squad. The photo was taken by Andrew Lopez, who covered the Cuban Revolution.
#15 1974 Burst Of Joy
Image Source: Slava Veder
Although the picture shows the ecstatic happiness of a family reunion the moment Col. Robert Stirm returned home from a prison camp in North Vietnam, it has a sad story. His wife, three days prior to the homecoming, sent him a letter informing him about the end of their marriage, so Stirm himself admitted having mixed feelings about the photo that was supposed to represent hope and healing.
#16 1949 “Babe Ruth Bows Out”
Image Source: Nathaniel Fein
The first picture in the sports field was taken during the final baseball game of George Herman Erhardt (AKA “Babe Ruth”). Although he was one of many photographers present that day, where Nathaniel Fein succeeded the most was taking a photo that really captured the moment of Ruth wearing the number 3 shirt and using his baseball bat as a cane while the whole stadium cheered. Ruth passed away two months after the photo was taken.
#17 1961 “Tokyo Stabbing”
Image Source: Yasushi Nagao
This situation during a heated election in Japan actually took place in front of 3000 people. As the situation got out of hand, one angry student drew a footlong sword that went 11 inches into this politician’s abdomen. And, well, Yasushi Nagao was there to freeze the exact moment as the student was pulling out the blade after the second thrust. As the image was reprinted in many American newspapers, it got Nagao the Pulitzer Award, making him the first foreign photographer to receive it.
#18 1943 “Water!”
Image Source: Frank Noel
The second winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Photography, Frank (AKA “Pappy”) Noel, took the award-winning picture of a seaman in a lifeboat stretching his arm out for water—Noel himself was in another lifeboat in the Indian Ocean as his ship was torpedoed.
#19 1978 “Three Photographs From Guerrilla Areas In Rhodesia”
Image Source: J. Ross Baughman
The series of photos by J. Ross Baughman portraying the atrocities carried out by Rhodesian Security Forces on prisoners got their authenticity and details quastioned. As the debates went on, Baughman carried on his career and has lectured about journalistic ethics and methods at various universities and educational establishments.
#20 1980 “Firing Squad In Iran”
Image Source: Jahangir Razmi
Firstly, the prize was given to this photo anonymously in order to protect its author. It shows 11 Kurdish men being shot by Islamic supporters of Ayatollah Khomeni. Iran authorities pushed the newspaper to reveal the name, but the editorial staff refused. In 2016, with his permission, it was revealed that it was Jahangir Razmi who was behind the camera.
#21 1942 “Ford Strikers Riot”
Image Source: Milton Brooks
This image was taken during the 1941 workers’ strike at the Ford manufacturing plant. Apparently, Milton Brooks snapped it very quickly, hiding the camera behind his coat while mixing with the crowd so that he wouldn’t get noticed as, according to him, many people would have liked to wreck it.
#22 1962 “Serious Steps”
Image Source: Paul Vathis
The jurors were “impressed with the importance of thoughtful, significant pictures to illustrate the news.” This image taken during a meeting regarding the Cuban Crisis between JFK and Dwight D. Eisenhower was taken during the moment when the secretary said “no more photos” and Paul Vathis snapped two shots from behind.
#23 1947 “Death Leap From Blazing Hotel”
Image Source: Arnold Hardy
This picture of a fire incident killing 119 people in Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia was taken by a 24-year-old graduate student from Georgia Tech. He took the gut-wrenching photo using a Speed Graphic and his last flashbulb. He ended up running an x-ray equipment business, although Associated Press offered him a job.
#24 1967 “Shooting Of James Meredith”
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
During the March Against Fear in Mississippi in 1966, James Meredith, who was a civil rights movement activist, was attacked and injured by a sniper and Jack R. Thornell took the winning photo.
#25 1952 “Johny Bright Incident”
Image Source: John Robinson
The sequence of photos taken by John Robinson and Don Ultang highlighted the racial tensions involving African American player Johnny Bright during an American college football game in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The photographers deliberately set up the camera focusing on Bright following numerous rumors of him being targeted. In some way, they were lucky to capture the images as they only planned to stay through the first quarter of the game, and that’s when Bright got knocked down three times by the opposing team and eventually received an elbow blow that broke his jaw.
#26 1953 “Adlai Stevenson”
Image Source: William M. Gallagher
William M. Gallagher had to kneel at the base of the platform in order to snap this picture of Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson—in particular, the hole in his right shoe. Apparently, after the image was published, Stevenson received an “avalanche” of shoes.
#27 1950 “Near Collision At Air Show”
Image Source: Bill Crouch
On his day off, Bill Crouch was attending an air show with more than 60,000 spectators who were stunned by a near-collision of a biplane and a huge B-29. The latter was supposed to fly through the biplane’s smoke trail and ended up coming in too early, but, by chance, missing an awful tragedy.
#28 1948 “Boy Gunman And Hostage”
Image Source: Frank Cushing
The picture probably wouldn’t be so moving without its story of two 15-year-old boys—Ed Bancroft holding Bill Ronan as a hostage in an alley. As a robbery took place nearby, two policemen approached Ed asking about it. The boy pulled out a gun, shot one of the policemen, and took Bill as a hostage. Frank Cushing, the photographer, was on an assignment nearby, quickly assessing the best vantage point to take pictures of the events happening, which happened to be from a stranger’s rear porch.
#29 1970 “Campus Guns”
Image Source: Steve Starr
Steve Starr captured an epitome of student revolt against the general status quo in the campus of Cornell University, NY. It shows armed students leaving the building they had just taken over and held for 36 hours.
#30 1957 “Andrea Doria Sinking 2”
Image Source: Harry Trask
The dramatic sinking of luxury sea liner Andrea Doria was captured from a small plane by Harry Trask suffering from airsickness. He got the pilot to make a few passes over the incident location that finally resulted in 16 pictures, including this particular one being selected by the Pulitzer Prize Board and the jury.