Slain photojournalist Danish Siddiqui’s father remembers him as someone who “faced all kinds of pressures” but remained unfazed by it. Siddiqui is among four Indians honoured with the Pulitzer Prize 2022 in the feature photography category, announced late Monday night.
The 38-year-old, who was killed on July 16 last year while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and Taliban forces in Spin Boldak district of Kandahar, had caught the attention of the world with his photographs of funeral pyres at mass cremations of Covid-19 victims in Delhi last year.
Mohammad Akhtar Siddiqui recalls that his son travelled to different cities, including Haridwar and Bhagalpur, when the pandemic was raging across India. “He carried out this work in the most difficult circumstances and was going deep into the wards and coming close to people suffering from Covid. He would share the pain and suffering of the people. A workaholic, he was extremely professionally committed. While he was not worried for himself, he would take all precautions to ensure that he should not pass any infection to his family. He always celebrated Eid with family, but that year he did not visit us, as he did not want to risk us catching any virus from him,” he says.
“He faced all kinds of pressures from people who did not want the reality to be uncovered but he was unfazed by all kinds of criticism and was fearless,” Mohammad Akhtar adds.
Apart from the photograph that went viral, the Pulitzer website displays Siddiqui’s image of a naga sadhu wearing a mask before entering the Ganga during the traditional shahi snan at the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in April last year. In another frame, a son fans his mother with a handkerchief on the back seat of a vehicle, as she receives oxygen in the parking lot of a gurudwara. During the peak of the pandemic, when many died alone, Siddiqui also photographed carefully wrapped urns, containing ashes collected after the final rites of people, awaiting immersion due to a national lockdown, at a crematorium in Delhi in May 2021.
The team from Reuters news agency – Adnan Abidi, Sanna Irshad Mattoo, Amit Dave and Siddiqui – won the honour for “images of Covid’s toll in India that balanced intimacy and devastation, while offering viewers a heightened sense of place”, states the Pulitzer Prize website.
This is the third Pulitzer Prize for Adnan Abidi, who reportedly started his career as a darkroom assistant in the mid-1990s. Along with Siddiqui, he was also part of the Reuters team that won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for images of the Rohingya refugee crisis. In 2020, he won the Pulitzer for Breaking News Photography for his coverage of the 2019-20 Hong Kong protests. Sharing the announcement of the Pulitzer on Monday, Abidi dedicated the prize to Siddiqui, as a “tribute”. His award-winning photographs on the Pulitzer website reflect the pain of the family members of Covid patients in critical condition – from a girl pressing the chest of her father, who had trouble breathing after he fell unconscious while receiving oxygen support at a gurudwara in Ghaziabad in April 2021, to family members embracing each other and mourning the death of a male relative in PPE suits. Sharing his philosophy, on the Reuters website, Abidi states, “In photojournalism you need to get beyond the visible and dig out a story within a story.”
For Ahmedabad-based Amit Dave, photography was a passion he inherited from his father, who also collected cameras. As the Delta wave of the pandemic swept India in 2021, he tracked the numbers and documented the surge in Gujarat. His photograph on the Pulitzer website has a healthcare worker checking the temperature of a woman inside her hut during a coronavirus vaccination drive for workers at a brick kiln in Kavitha village on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in April 2021. Dave also covered the devastation caused by the 2004 tsunami in Tamil Nadu.
Sanna Irshad Mattoo, who was a 2021 Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice fellow, closely monitored Covid in Kashmir and followed healthcare workers as they administered its vaccine to people across the state. The Pulitzer website has her photograph from the Valley, with a shepherd receiving the Covid vaccine at Lidderwat in Kashmir’s Anantnag district in June 2021.