Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Photography: Pulitzer Prize 1943

Continuing the list of the winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Photography from inception in 1942 and the World Press Photograph of the Year from inception in 1955:

(Click on photograph to enlarge).


Pulitzer Prize for Photography

Frank Noel of Associated Press


In 1941, the WW2 was going badly for the Allies. In Asia, Japan’s policy of speed and savagery had seen it sweep downwards towards Singapore with the intent of eventually capturing Australia. Singapore, a strategically vital military base that protected Britain’s other Commonwealth possessions in Asia, was seen by the British as the “Gibraltar of the East”. It was considered impregnable.

It was also considered that any Japanese attack would come by sea, with the consequence that all of the defences were aimed at the sea, including cannon set in concrete pointing in that direction. The problem for the British was that the Japanese fought an unconventional war. Instead of attacking by sea, they swept down the Malay Peninsula at a fast pace, through the jungles and mangrove swamps. They were under orders not to take prisoners so that their advance would not be slowed.

The attack on Singapore took place about the same time as the attack upon Pearl Harbour. The British battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse were destroyed by Japanese torpedo bombers and the Japanese Army attacked the defenders of Singapore. Churchill sent a message to General Percival, in charge of trhe defence of Singapore: "There must be no thought of sparing the troops or population; commanders and senior officers should die with their troops. The honour of the British Empire and the British Army is at stake." According to General Yamasita, in charge of the Japanese forces: “My attack on Singapore was a bluff – a bluff that worked. I had 30,000 men and was outnumbered more than three to one. I knew that if I had to fight for long for Singapore, I would be beaten. That is why the surrender had to be at once. I was very frightened all the time that the British would discover our numerical weakness and lack of supplies and force me into disastrous street fighting.”

On 15 February 1942, Singapore was surrendered to the Japanese. Over 100,000 troops and hundreds of European civilians became prisoners.

In January 1942 Frank “Poppy” Noel was covering the war in Singapore for Associated Press. He had contracted malaria whilst there and, with the situation worsening, he was ordered to head home to the US.

Whilst on a freighter 500 kilometres (330 miles) out of port on the Indian Ocean, his ship was torpedoed. Despite initially being trapped in his cabin, he managed to get out and board a lifeboat with 27 crew members. After drifting for five days in the heat and sun, they were approached by another lifeboat. It carried Indian sailors who had also managed to survive the sinking of the freighter. Having lost their water supply when they initially launched the lifeboat, they were in a desperate situation. One of the Indian lifeboat occupants reached out his hand and pleaded for water. Noel’s boat had none to give. Despite Noel’s malaria, thirst and general lack of wellbeing, he took a single photograph of the moment when the Indian lifeboat occupant realises that there is no water to be shared, his face and eyes showing his desperate sadness. The boats drifted apart and were later separated by a storm. The other life boat was never seen again.

Noel subsequently covered the war in Europe, then the war in Palestine followed by the Korean War. He was captured and held prisoner by the Chinese during his time spent covering the war in Korea, escaped but was beaten and solitarily confined on his recapture. During his 32 months imprisonment and using a camera snuck in by friends, he photographed hundreds of prisoners of war and had the films snuck out. He was rescued in 1953, having made three escape attempts, failing in one of them when he wouldn’t leave the others behind.

After working in New York he retired and died in 1966 aged 61.

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