The “Feral Child” and the Pulitzer

No one has any way of telling what lies behind Dani's big brown eyes and vacant stare. - Melissa Lyttle / St. Petersburg TimesThe Pulitzers were announced earlier this week and I saw plenty of good things around for the photo winners (direct links: Damon Winter of the NYT for Obama campaign coverage and Patrick Farrell of the Miami Herald for work in Haiti after a series of deadly storms), but it was PDN who via twitter last night brought to my attention that the amazing, heartbreaking story “The Girl in the Window”, published in the St. Petersburg Times, won the Pulitzer Price for feature writing. The project was written by Lane DeGregory, who takes home the prize, and was accompanied by the touching and powerful photographs of Melissa Lyttle. Here is the announcement from the paper itself.

A lot has rightfully been written and repeated about this project, from both inside the photo community (e.g. PDN) and out (Seattle’s alt-newspaper The Stranger). It has struck a cord around the US and brought in a lot of press and support for the organizations involved in the story. The piece in PDN has a lot of great insights into how the project was produced, the huge challenges DeGregory and Lyttle faced (from access to editorial pressure) and the benefits of their teamwork. With many congratulations to DeGregory and the St. Pete editors, I wanted to direct people again to Lyttle’s strong work. As DeGregory said (back in November, well before this prize): “Bottom line I don’t think I could have done ‘The Girl in the Window’ without Melissa.”
Bernie Lierow loves giving his daughter kisses and hugs, even if she can’t hug back. © st. petersburg times / photo by melissa lyttle
Also, the person who gave DeGregory the tip for the story insisted on the two women working as a team,

Eastman called DeGregory with the story because DeGregory had previously written sensitively about a 14-year-old mother who gave up her baby up for adoption. As a condition of providing access to Dani and her adoptive family, Eastman stipulated that Melissa Lyttle, who had worked with DeGregory on the story of the young mother, be the photographer.

“I didn’t want any other photojournalist in the home of a special-needs child,” explains Eastman. “It was a very sensitive story with the potential to do a lot of good but also the potential to be done in a salacious manner.”

What a terrific compliment to a photographer, and by all accounts well deserved. Again, congrats and thanks to both Lyttle and DeGregory for a remarkable story that is having continuing to make a positive impact while broadening our understanding of life and its challenges.
Dani flails around the speech therapy room in frustration. © st. petersburg times / photo by melissa lyttle
(notice how it says ‘picture stories’ on the wall? very interesting)

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