The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Boundary-breaking speakers at SJU

Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Ozier Muhammed spoke to a group of students and faculty on April 17 about his award-winning photographs taken in Ethiopia, Iraq, and New Orleans.

The lecture, entitled “From Quagmire to Deluge: Telling the World’s Stories in Photographs,” was hosted by the New York Times.

Muhammed began his career in 1972, working for Newsday. During his tenure there,
Muhammed received a Polk award for news photography. In 1985, he won the Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting, along with Josh Friedman and Dennis Bell, for a series of reports entitled “Africa, the Desperate Continent.” Muhammed began his time as a photographer for the New York Times in 1992. Muhammed began by showing
some of his more recent photographs, which were taken in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.

During his time in Iraq, Muhammed, along with other people, stayed as an embed with
the 1st Marine Division.

“There were certain rules we had to follow,” Muhammed said. “We couldn’t disclose the location of where pictures were taken.”

Muhammed faced many difficulties while staying with the other embeds. “We were traveling in seven-ton trucks,” he said. “We were constantly moving and only had two changes of clothes. It was rough, but it’s a lot worse now.”

When they finally reached Baghdad, which took three weeks because of the immensely difficult conditions, Muhammed said that the city was fairly intact, although, “areas were smoldering. There was a bit of chaos with people taking advantage of the fact that there was no local authority.

After discussing his photographs from the Middle East, Muhammed moved on to his collection from New Orleans, where he arrived only a few days after the levees had breached. He described one of the more devesated areas of Louisiana, called Plackman’s Parish as “submerged under water. It was the hardest hit area of Louisiana,” he said. “Houses literally moved off their foundations.”

Muhammed also visited the Lower Ninth Ward, another area devestated by the hurricane,
which many considered “irredemable.” When taking photographs in Louisiana, Muhammed ran into a problem.

“FEMA did everything possible to get them not to photograph body bags,” he said, “but
it’s an extremely abstract image. It was a ploy to control the information coming out of New Orleans-a way of shirking responsibilities and a failure to understand that some people did not have the wherewithal to leave.”

In fact, although 80 percent of the city did evacuate, “some were too poor to leave,” Muhammed said. “They had no cars, no bus fare and there were some who just didn’t want to leave because they thought hurricane wouldn’t cause much damage.”

Even though New Orleans was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina,
Muhammed conveyed that the city was recovering.

“Efforts to rebuild levees were impressive,” he said. “The Army Corps and engineers never stopped working. They got the levees elevated to pre-Katrina conditions and gave
them more fortification.”

Muhammed finished by showing the photographs he took in Ethiopia, which won him the
Pulitzer Prize. Muhammed, Friedman, and Bell arrived in Ethiopia during the 10th anniversary of a revolution in which the communist party took control of the country.
It was also a time of severe drought and famine.

“It was a heck of an adventure, just to see the effort put forth by NGO’s,” he said. “Even
though the leader of Ethiopia was trying to purge the country to consolidate political power, he did allow NGO’s to provide relief, unlike Darfur.”

Although Muhammed has visited places plagued by war and dangerous conditions, he believes that his time in these places has been worth it.

“If I want to consider myself a serious photojournalist, I want to work on the big
events. That information needs to be out there,” he said. “There’s hostility anywhere
when you point a camera,” he explained. “I just take the picture and deal with the consequences later. The consequences have never been terrible.”

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