Pulitzer Prize exhibit illustrates humanity's triumphs, tragedies

Pulitzer Prize exhibit illustrates humanity's triumphs, tragedies

Both opened on Aug. 3, and both delve into history through photojournalism.

The Pulitzer Prize Photographs exhibit comes to the Missouri History Museum through the Newseum in Washington. St. Louis is the third city to host the exhibit but the first to create a local component to complement the show.

Jody Sowell, the director of exhibitions and research at the Missouri History Museum, said In Focus was an important addition.

“We really also wanted to make this a local show,” he said. “The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been chronicling St. Louis since 1878 and covered our high points and our low points, our tragedies and our triumphs, our Stanley Cup losses and Stanley Cup win, and so we also wanted to add that.”

Jody Sowell, Director of Exhibitions and Research, Missouri History Museum discusses the famous Pulitzer Prize image by Robert Cohen, St Louis Post-Dispatch. Photo by Robert C. Holt lll
But, he added, that doesn’t mean the Pulitzer Prize Photographs exhibit doesn’t have its own St. Louis ties.

“Even though most of the photos, of course, were not shot in St. Louis, they were news and stories that people were talking about in St. Louis,” he said. “These were the stories people would’ve been talking about at their dining room table or breakfast table.”

With more than 150 photographs in the combined two shows, plenty of the photos will look familiar to visitors: Many have been used in high school textbooks, and others are so famous it’s impossible not to recognize them. But what might come as a surprise is that a good number of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos have been shot by amateur photographers.

And even more of those photos, amateur or professional, were captured because the photographers were simply in the right place at the right time.

Take the photo “The Babe Bows Out,” captured by Nat Fein of the New York Herald Tribune. Sowell explained that it was an accident that Fein was even at the stadium that day. He’d been working the copy desk that morning when the usual photographer called in sick. Had Fein stayed at his desk that day, that iconic shot, in which the audience can see Babe Ruth facing his fans for the last time, might never have been captured.

Some images in the show, Sowell said, can be difficult to look at, and many may incite debate among

Jody Sowell, Director of Exhibitions and Research, Missouri History Museum, Describes the opening room of the exhibit. Photo by Robert C. Holt lll
attendees.

“Some images, people ask, ‘Should this have been shot? Should this have been published?’” he said. While difficult to observe, Sowell said, many of those shots – such as the 1975 photo by Stanley Forman that depicts a woman and her goddaughter plummeting to the ground after a fire escape collapses beneath them — have caused people to take action against such horrific incidences. That image captured by Forman spurred Boston to regulate fire escapes.

“That’s really what I think photojournalists believe in their hearts that they’re always doing, that they’re chronicling things that sometimes we don’t want to see; they’re chronicling things that are sometimes hard to look at, but it’s important for us to learn lessons,” Sowell explained.

Along with the photographs displayed along the walls of the show, the exhibit has two other attractions: a 19-minute film in which photographers discuss the art of photojournalism, and a kiosk where attendees can peruse Pulitzer Prize-winning photo portfolios.

Sowell said that, overall, he hoped that those who visited the exhibits would feel free to engage with the photos and reflect on the lessons they have to teach.

“I hope visitors, once they’ve gone through it all, will just think about these 150 photos and what they represent, the fact that they have seen so much history,” he said. “That they’ve seen the full range of human emotion, that they’ve seen the full range of geography from St. Louis to the Sudan. They’ve seen a range of time; they’ve seen a range of subject. It’s really exciting to pack this much history into one gallery.”

Pulitzer Prize Photographs and In Focus: St. Louis Post-Dispatch Photographs both run through Jan. 20. Admission to the exhibit is free. For more information, check out https://mohistory.org/exhibits/pulitzer-prize-photographs/