The Feature

Frame of history

June 1, 2016
Photo by Nathaniel Fein (Getty)

There are few more emotional ways to view history than through the lens of a camera. Whether the brutality of war, the innocence of victory, or the horror of racial conflict, chances are a photographer was there to capture it. Those who shoot such images often work out of frantic newsrooms. They have little time to get the shot and their finished work gets framed in newsprint. Yet since 1942, their photography has formed some of the most powerful journalism honored by the Pulitzer Prize.

In this slideshow, you will see images that are famous, and others that deserve to be. They include the iconic photograph of a policeman helping a boy cross a parade route in 1957. And they include split-second news, like a 1980 photograph capturing the scene moments after John Hinckley Jr.* fired six shots at President Ronald Reagan outside a Washington Hilton.

Organized chronologically, these images form a visual path through history, or at least some of its most memorable flashpoints.


Please click here for the slideshow.


  • 1942 Milton Brooks of The Detroit News won the first Pulitzer ever awarded for photography. “Ford Strikers Riot” depicts a man being beaten by a crowd of Ford Motor Plant strikers after trying to break up a protest. (Courtesy of The Detroit News)

  • 1949 Nathaniel Fein of New York Herald Tribune captured the moment Babe Ruth’s number was retired at Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948. The resulting iconic photo, “Babe Ruth Bows Out,” took the Pulitzer the following year. (Getty)

  • 1951 Max Desfor of the Associated Press won a Pulitzer for his coverage of the Korean War, notably this photo, named “Flight of Refugees Across Wrecked Bridge in Korea.” The imageshows North Koreans inching their way across the ruins of Pyongyang’s bridge, fleeing invading Chinese Communist troops. (AP)

  • 1958 William C. Beall of Washington (DC) Daily News shot this photo of a policeman reasoning with a 2-year-old boy trying to cross the street during a parade, titled “Faith and Confidence.” (Getty)

  • 1963 Hector Rondon of La Republica in Caracas, Venezuela, took this photo in the midst of the Venezuelan insurrection. In “Aid From The Padre,” a priest holds a wounded soldier in sniper fire. (AP)

  • 1968 Rocco Morabito of Jacksonville Journal caught a heart-stopping but ultimately life-saving moment in “The Kiss of Life.” Randall Champion and J.D. Thompson were performing routine maintenance on power lines when Champion accidentally brushed against a high-voltage line and more than 4,000 volts spasmed through his body (an electric chair uses about 2,000 volts). The surge stopped his heart, but Thompson was able to restart it through CPR. (Getty)

  • 1968 Toshio Sakai of United Press International also won in 1968 for “Dreams of Better Times.” One American soldier in Vietnam keeps watch during a monsoon as another sleeps on sacks of sand. (Corbin)

  • 1973 Brian Lanker of Topeka Capital-Journal captured the experience of childbirth through a moving sequence, distilled in the photo “Moment of Life.” (Brian Lanker Archive, courtesy of Lynda Lanker)

  • 1977 Stanley Forman of Boston Herald American was at the scene when a white teenager named Joseph Rakes attacked Theodore Landsmark, a black lawyer and civil rights activist, during a protest against the desegregation of buses in Boston. (Courtesy of Stanley Forman at

  • 1980 Jahangir Razmi of Ettela’at in Iran won for his photograph of a firing squad executing Kurdish rebels during the Iranian revolution. The Prize was awarded anonymously and remained that way until 2006, when the photographer gave permission for his identity to be released. (Magnum)

  • 1982 Ron Edmonds of the Associated Press won a Pulitzer for his coverage of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. John Hinckley Jr. fired six shots; he hit the president in the chest and wounded three others, including Press Secretary James Brady, who was permanently disabled as a result of the attack. All victims survived. (AP)

  • 1985 The photography staff of The Register in Santa Ana, California, took the Prize for its coverage of the 1984 Olympic games. (Courtesy of The Orange County Register)

  • 1989 Manny Crisostomo of Detroit Free Press won the Prize for his series on daily life at the city’s Southwestern High School. (Courtesy of Manny Crisostomo)

  • 1989 Manny Crisostomo of Detroit Free Press won the Prize for his series on daily life at the city’s Southwestern High School. (Courtesy of Manny Crisostomo)

  • 1998 Martha Rial of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette won for her “life-affirming portraits,” as the Pulitzer Board called them, of survivors of the Rwandan and Burundian conflicts. Here, two teenage Hutu girls pose at the Rwamagana orphanage where they live. (Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • 2000 Carol Guzy, Michael Williamson, and Lucian Perkins of The Washington Post all won for their coverage of the lives of Kosovo refugees. In this photo, taken by Guzy, Ilir Bajraktari is reunited with his family after being released from a Serbian prison. (Getty)

  • 2005 The photography staff of the Associated Press won for their combined work on documenting the Iraq War. In this photo by Anja Niedringhaus, a 1st Division Marine walks through the streets of Fallujah with a G.I. Joe action figure strapped to his back. (AP)

  • 2009 Damon Winter captured striking moments from Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. This photo was taken in Chicago’s Grant Park on the night Obama won the election. (Redux)

  • 2014 Tyler Hicks of The New York Times was in the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, on September 21, 2013, when Somali militants opened fire on the public. Hicks continued to shoot pictures throughout the attack, which would ultimately leave 67 people dead. Here, a mother tries to shelter her children. (Redux)

  • 2015 The photography staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was awarded the Prize for its coverage of the civil unrest that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, following the deadly shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson. Robert Cohen caught this picture of Edward Crawford flinging a tear gas canister back at police, who had fired it to break up a crowd. (AP)

  • 2016 Mauricio Lima, Sergey Ponomarev, Tyler Hicks, and Daniel Etter of The New York Times all won for their documentation of Syrian refugees leaving their homes in search of safety. In this photo, by Hicks, a young boy is one of a group of migrants fleeing to Turkey by rubber raft. Although not all did, he made it to shore and survived. (Redux)


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*This article originally misspelled the name of John Hinckley Jr. It has been corrected.

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.