October 28, 2019
By Gianncarlo Hernandez and Andrea Zagal, Jersey Village HS
Oct. 28, 2019—Reflecting on images that garnered him the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Photography, Jersey Village High School 1991 graduate and decorated photojournalist Adrees Latif recently visited with student reporters from his alma mater and discussed the award and his career.
The Pulitzer Prize is a prestigious award that has honored excellence in journalism, literature and music composition since 1917. There are 21 categories for the annual award, including 14 that recognize journalism.
The 2019 Pulitzer Prize is Latif’s second, as he earned the award in collaboration with 11 other Reuters photographers who captured the journey of migrants from Central America and South America seeking asylum in the United States. Reuters is an international news organization with roughly 2,500 reporters and 600 photojournalists located across the globe.
Latif earned his first Pulitzer Prize in 2008, also winning in Breaking News Photography. The winning photo captured a fatally wounded Japanese videographer during a demonstration in Myanmar.
Born in Pakistan, Latif lived in Saudi Arabia before his family immigrated to Texas in 1980. His interest in photojournalism developed during his sophomore year at Jersey Village, as he spent countless hours after school perfecting his photographs for both the yearbook and newspaper. After graduation, he continued his education at the University of Houston while also working for the Houston Post, Houston Chronicle and other local newspapers. He joined Reuters in 1996.
Now the enterprise editor for the Reuters Pictures, Latif has traveled the world capturing moments for people to view.
During a May 2018 project, Latif traveled to the border between the United States and Mexico, staying for months and witnessing the daily dangers migrants encountered attempting to enter the United States. President Donald Trump’s immigration policy and “zero tolerance” approach sparked national outcry and caused a huge wave of media coverage.
(Photo by Gianncarlo Hernandez, Jersey Village HS)
A promotion actually opened the door for Latif and the project, as going from Reuters Editor in Charge, U.S. Pictures to Reuters Enterprise Editor gave him the freedom to begin the immigration project. Soon after, the collaboration alongside other photojournalists began, with members of the award-winning team based in different parts of Central and South America, and Eastern Europe.
“We were trying to get as many photographers as possible,” Latif said. “People from Asia have a different look at what’s happening here than other regional photographers may. We got a very diverse team of photographers.”
Latif said the most difficult part photojournalists faced in covering their journeys was wrestling with remaining on the sidelines helplessly while witnessing the hardships of the migrants.
He remembered a woman holding her child in a group of hundreds attempting to cross the border. She suffered from extreme dehydration, but he could not help her due to the crowds. Helping one person meant all would want help and Latif–or any journalist–simply didn’t have the ability to accommodate the rush of people.
“It is extremely difficult to see people in distress and not help everyone at the same time,” Latif said. “When I go to the border, I stop at H-E-B and grab 10 gallons of water. In my last trip, I grabbed seven gallons of water, and I could’ve used 70.”
In one of his photos, Latif captured the image of a Honduran man carrying a 5-year-old boy through the Suchiate River into Mexico from Guatemala. He said he wanted to depict what migrants will risk to attain a better life, entering the river so he could show up close what migrants experience on their journey.
The physical aspect of following migrants daily and chronicling their experiences also proved difficult for Latif.
“They are walking for hours every day and you’re walking for hours, you’re dealing with all of the issues they’re dealing with,” he said. “You realize what they’re dealing with, which is how their feet get blisters because of walking for hours. Of course, they’re carrying their children in their arms and you can imagine how their muscles must be feeling. You feel the heat and you’re stretching yourself physically. You’re dealing with things you never imagined.”
This Pulitzer Prize award differed from Latif’s first, which completely surprised him.
This time, Latif and his wife put together the entry and there was pressure to perfect the package.
“As someone who edited the package, I wanted it to do well because I did not want to let the other team members down,” Latif said. “It’s amazing collaborating with other photographers and other editors. I had a lot of pressure because I knew we had done such an amazing job.”
Ultimately, the entry was announced as the winner.
Judges cited the photography team displayed a “vivid and startling visual narrative of the urgency, desperation and sadness of migrants as they journeyed to the U.S. from Central and South America.”
Latif, the award-winning team and its images can be viewed on the Pulitzer Prize website.