Image courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society
Pulitzer Prize winning photographers have witnessed triumph, as in Joe Rosenthal’s image of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima, and tragedy, when John Paul Filo chronicled the Kent State shootings. "Capture the Moment" at the Ohio Historical Center displays all of the 150 prize winners and tells the stories behind the efforts to preserve the key moments of our history.
News photographers step into the line of fire, risk death and disease and emotional trauma to emerge with the images that define our lives.
"They’re there because we want to be there. They’re our eyes," explained Cyma Rubin, curator of "Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs," on display at the Ohio Historical Center through July 25.
Through a lens, those eyes have seen and preserved for posterity the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima, the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, the massacre of students at Kent State, and the terror of the attacks on the World Trade Center towers.
They have also glimpsed the quieter moments that illustrate our humanity.
"There is a lot of warmth and humility here," Rubin said.
With its 150 images dating from 1942, when the prize was first awarded for photography, "Capture the Moment" is the largest collection of Pulitzer Prize winning photos ever assembled, and is making its only Ohio stop at the historical center.
The exhibit was developed by the Newseum, with Business of Entertainment and Rubin, a Tony and Emmy winning producer, director and writer.
Each frame tells a story, but Rubin also tells the story behind the story in the text that accompanies the enlarged images, and in her Emmy Award-winning documentary, "Moment of Impact," examining the background and aftermath of four of the iconic photographs. The documentary plays continuously at the center.
Each photograph is "a split-second study" that became "a marriage of artist and subject," Rubin observed.
Some of the photographers dismiss their accomplishments as just being "in the right place at the right time."
Rubin disagrees. "They’re artists," she insisted. "They were compelled to take a picture that was important to them."
That compulsion, and the adrenaline rush of action, drives the photographer into situations most of us would run from.
Combat photographers face many of the same dangers as soldiers. Daily newspaper photographers listen to police scanners, waiting for the crackle that will announce a fire or a crime scene.
Robert Capa, who landed on D-Day in World War II, believed "if the picture isn’t good, you aren’t close enough," Rubin shared.
That philosophy cost him his life when he stepped on a mine in Vietnam, she added.
Throughout the conflict in Vietnam, 135 photographers were killed.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, seven photographers and 37 video camera operators have died, along with 132 journalists, according to Rubin.
She has known photographers who committed suicide over scenes of famine and war that continued to haunt them.
But they keep working, despite the danger. "They’re not afraid. They can’t be afraid. One photographer told me ‘It’s like having a mistress you can’t give up,’" Rubin said.
That liaison has yielded many indelible images, and societal changes, as well.
Stanley Forman’s 1975 image of a mother and child falling from a burning building struck some as sensationalism, but it led to improved fire codes in Boston and across the country.
Robert Jackson was in the motorcade accompanying John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963, and was changing film when the shots rang out that killed the president.
The photographer was disappointed that he had missed such an opportunity, but he camped out at the jail where Lee Harvey Oswald was being held with the hope of getting another chance when the accused was transferred.
This doggedness allowed Jackson to capture the scene of Jack Ruby shooting and killing Oswald as he was brought out of the jail.
Jackson was so close to the action that he testified to the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination.
Photographers find more reflective, and even humorous, moments, as well.
William Gallagher showed the weariness of the campaign trail by getting a shot of the hole in presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson’s shoe in "Adlai Bares His Sole."
Not to be outdone, the witty Stevenson sent a note when the photographer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, congratulating him for winning with "a hole in one."
The compelling images come from all over the world, or in our own backyards, as proven by photojournalism student John Paul Filo’s "Kent State Massacre," with its horrified young woman kneeling over the body of a student shot by the National Guard during an anti-war protest.
The historical center is taking advantage of the display of the photograph, and its own access to official records, to tell the entire story of the events around May 4, 1970, according to Lisa Wood, curator of audio-visual collections.
"It Happened in Ohio: The Kent State Shootings" provides a timeline of the actions that led to the deaths of four students and the wounding of nine others on the campus, and the aftermath.
Letters and documents from the Highway Patrol and the Adjutant General’s office accompany the display of photos and personal items.
"We have a unique opportunity to tell a balanced story," from the point of view of the students and the National Guardsmen, Wood said.
As part of its new Community Conversations series, the center will present "Reflections on Kent State," May 15, bringing together Ohioans who experienced this time of turmoil, including Alan Canfora, wounded at Kent and now the director of the Kent May 4 Center; Charles Fassinger, the senior uniformed officer on campus on that date; Glenn Harper, a private in the National Guard; and KSU journalism major Scott Mueller, who assisted James Michener with his book "Kent State: What Happened and Why."
Self-guided tours of the exhibits are from 6-7 p.m. and Community Conversations are from 7-9 p.m. in the Arthur C. Johnson Auditorium at the Ohio Historical Center.
The curators expect that many of the photographs will evoke strong emotional responses – as they were intended to do.
"They’re in your face," Rubin said. "They should be."
The Ohio Historical Center is located at 1-71 and 17th Avenue in Columbus. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for senior and $4 for children ages 6 to 12. Parking is $4. Ohio Historical Society members receive free admission and parking.
For information about programs and events, call 295-2300 or 800-686-6124 or go online at www.ohiohistory.org.