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Behind the Lens: Carol Guzy's Pulitzer-Prize Winning Photography (Full-Screen Slideshow)
Eye, heart, and mind. These are the things that come into play in the moment when Carol Guzy takes a photograph. The camera in front of her might seem like a shield, but it doesn’t protect her from what she sees By Harry Jaffe
Comments () | Published July 27, 2011

US troops occupied Haiti to restore order after a military coup. Guzy was covering a pro-democracy march when a grade went off. "The mob was about to tear apart the man they thought had thrown the grenade," she says. "The soldier had pulled him out and definitely saved his life. I had fallen to the ground and got this shot looking up at the action."

Editor's note: This slideshow contains some graphic images.

 She had just returned from family leave to her job as a photographer for the Post. Her mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and Guzy had been by her side in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “I promised her I would help her through the journey,” Guzy says. “If it had been anywhere but Haiti, I could not have considered going. But I had to.”

She packed in 20 minutes, hitched a ride to New York with AP photographer Gerald Herbert and Post reporter Mary Beth Sheridan, caught a flight to the Dominican Republic, and made her way to Port-au-Prince. “It was a surreal scene,” she says. “To see places I had been so many times, with people dead under schools, palaces, churches, apartments.”

For the next week, Guzy recorded scenes of death and destruction, hope and resilience, in the island country she had visited so many times that she called it “my obsession.”

How does she cope with the images of sorrow and horror in a place she loves?

“You cry,” she says. “Anyone who doesn’t cry I worry about.”

The Pulitzer board awarded the 2011 prize for breaking-news photography to Guzy and fellow Post photographers Nikki Kahn and Ricky Carioti for their work in Haiti. It was Guzy’s fourth Pulitzer. No other journalist has won that many. She joins two other four-time winners: poet Robert Frost and playwright Eugene O’Neill.

“It’s not me,” she says. “It’s Haiti. I have been to a lot of places. Haiti is the most intense—both positive and negative. The Haitian spirit touches your soul. After the quake, the Haitians mourned, they prayed, they cried, they picked themselves up and moved along. It’s unnerving.”

Guzy is sunk into a couch in her comfortable brick home in Arlington. She’s five-four with long blond hair and hazel eyes. Trixie, the dog she rescued from Hurricane Katrina, is draped across her chest. “She was born after the hurricane,” Guzy says. “The toxic sludge must have affected her. Her paws were twisted in. She walked like Charlie Chaplin. She suffers from progressive neurological issues.”

Carol Guzy, the woman behind the camera, with the dog she rescued from Hurricane Katrina, Trixie. Photograph by Stephen Voss

So Guzy hand-feeds and holds her. She’d like to create an animal sanctuary “for the unwanted ones.” Such as another mutt she found in Idaho while photographing a feature on hoarding. The dog’s coat was matted; vets gave her no chance. “Something about her got to me. She was an old soul that deserves comfort.” Guzy took her home, spruced her up, named her Hope. She lasted only a year.

Fixing broken souls might be what gives Guzy the strength to capture the scenes she does through the lens: men knifed to death; legs sticking out from rubble; mothers wailing over lost babies. Memuna Mansaray McShane, an amputee from Sierra Leone who became Guzy’s godchild. Photos of the Kosovo conflict, where she chronicled ethnic cleansing, won a Pulitzer. “The camera in front of your face is a shield, but it doesn’t mean you are not feeling what you see,” Guzy says. “There is the myth of objectivity—but it is a myth.”

Guzy grew up in working-class Bethlehem. Her father died when she was six. She lived with her mother and sister, 14 years her senior. Her mother worked in a sewing factory. “Not a lot of money,” Guzy says. “No car.”

She attended public schools, loved to draw and paint. She dreamed of becoming an artist but needed a job. After graduating from high school in 1974, she enrolled in a nursing program at Northampton Community College. “It was too hands on,” she says. “I was scared I was going to kill someone.” She got a nursing degree but never nursed.

Her boyfriend gave her a 35-millimeter camera, so she enrolled in a black-and-white photography course. In the darkroom, she watched a photographic image appear for the first time. “It was magical,” she says. “I failed the class, but I found my place, my passion.”

Guzy enrolled in the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, where she completed a two-year photography course. One of her professors was Walter Michot, a veteran photographer at the Miami Herald. He helped introduce her to photojournalism. “Boom—this was what I wanted to do,” she says. “It was so clear to me.”

It was probably clear to the photo editors at the Miami Herald that she had talent. She describes herself as “the crazy intern who wouldn’t leave.” The Herald hired her.

Guzy won her first Pulitzer in 1986 for spot-news photography of the aftermath of mudslides in Colombia that killed 23,000. She shared it with Michel du Cille, now her photo editor at the Post and the husband of Nikki Kahn, with whom she won her fourth Pulitzer. “What are the chances of that?” Guzy asks.

The Herald sent her to shoot the famine in Ethiopia and to other hot spots around the world, but she became fascinated with the predicament of a community closer to home: Miami’s Little Haiti. “It was the beginning of my obsession,” she says. “I didn’t even know it at the time. Something about the Haitians touched me.”

In 1988, Guzy married Jonathan Utz, a photographer with United Press International and Agence France-Presse; she moved with him to Washington and landed a job with the Post, joining a storied photo staff that eventually included Lucian Perkins, Nancy Andrews, and Michael Williamson. The paper sent her to cover the breakup of the Soviet Union, the civil war in Somalia, the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in Florida. Guzy’s marriage suffered—and ended in the early ’90s—but her work for the Post continued.

Next: Guzy's award-winning work takes it toll

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Posted at 09:30 AM/ET, 07/27/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles