Wednesday, July 4, 2012

An Unforgettable Picture



Thirty-seven years ago this month I was in Boston and bought a 20-cent copy of the Boston Herald Amerian -- Wednesday, July 23, 1975 -- from a vendor. The front page was nearly taken up by one picture, under the headline: "Safety So Near . . . Then A Death Fall."

While at the top of the front page national news was bannered: "House Keeps Oil Price Controls," at the bottom of the page there was a story by John McGinn and Arsene Davignon on the fire that led to the photo. The lede said: "A young woman fell to her death, a small girl was injured and a firefighter was saved by a chance hand-hold yesterday when a fire escape collapsed at the height of a suspicious blaze in the Back Bay."

Herald American Staff Photographer Stanley Forman took the photo showing the woman and child falling. As the story reported the woman was killed, but anyone who saw the front-page photo that day must have been shocked to learn the 2-year-old had survived.

Inside the newspaper, the Herald American published five more dramatic fire photos by Forman, whose front page picture won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for spot news -- he won another Pulitzer in 1977. Years later, I learned, the photo had prompted Boston to tighten its fire escape safety regulations.

Here is a link to this remarkable photo: http://stanleyformanphotos.com/pulitzer.html

Along with the photo spread on page 3, the paper's editors ran a brief account of how he got the pictures, in Forman's own words. "I kept having to move around because of the light situation. The sky was bright and they were in deep shadow. I wouldn't have had any detail. I was making pictures with a motor drive and he, the fire-fighter was reaching up and then I don't know, everything started falling. I followed the girl down, taking pictures . . . I made three or four frames. I realized what was going on and I completely turned around, because I didn't want to see her hit."

He turned away. It reminds me of what I once told a young reporter: "First you're a human being. Then you're a journalist."

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