Australian freelance photographer, Daniel Berehulak, has won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize Breaking News Photography award for his powerful photo series, They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals, documenting the violent war on drugs in the Phillipines.
The project, published by the New York Times, shows the callous disregard for human life under the Philippines new President Rodrigo Duterte.
In 35 days Berehulak documented 57 homicide victims, a tiny fraction of the 2000 people slain by police and further 3500 unsolved homicides linked with the barbaric war on drugs implemented since Duterte took office last year.
‘What I experienced in the Philippines felt like a new level of ruthlessness: police officers’ summarily shooting anyone suspected of dealing or even using drugs, (and) vigilantes’ taking seriously Duterte’s call to “slaughter them all”,’ Berehulak said in the NY Times piece.
‘If you’re associated at all with drugs you can be one of those people (killed), and we also found that it was mainly in the poorest of communities that people were being targeted,’ he later said reflecting the experience.
The photo essay was published in December 2016 as an interactive feature article. Berehulak wrote an accompanying text which delves into the lives of his photo subjects and scenarios that played out during his time in the Philippines.
The interactive article allows the reader to scroll through it, and it pans from text, photos, videos and graphics aided by captions. While the award-winning photos alone are powerful, Berehulak’s first-hand encounter adds another dimension to the storytelling.
‘You hear a murder scene before you see it: the desperate cries of a new widow. The piercing sirens of approaching police cars. The thud, thud, thud of the rain drumming on the pavement of a Manila alleyway — and on the back of Romeo Torres Fontanilla,’ The Sydney-born photographer writes in the piece. ‘Tigas, as Fontanilla was known, was lying face down in the street when I pulled up after 1am. He was 37. Gunned down, witnesses said, by two unknown men on a motorbike. The downpour had washed his blood into the gutter.’
Berehulak was assigned the project by David Furst, NY Times International photo editor, and wasn’t accompanied by a reporter – the agreement was he’d write the story.
‘Daniel has this remarkable ability to fuse this strong, forceful, in-your-face, on-the-ground photojournalism with an empathy for his subjects that is second to none,’ Furst said. ‘This piece has that kind of depth because Daniel has that kind of depth that he brings to his photography. He stayed behind when other photographers would come, snap and run. He went to the bottom of the story.’
This is Berehulak’s second Pultizer Prize. He previously won the Feature Photography award in 2015 for his coverage for the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
NY Times commits to quality
In its 2020 Report the NY Times recognises it’s ‘well-positioned’ to benefit from the changing media landscape, and the top recommendation is to become ‘more visual’.
It cites Berehulak’s work as a success story, and an example of the work the paper should be committed to, while providing a list of feature articles falling flat due to a lack of quality photos and graphics.
Around The Lens, a blog and YouTube channel, reported that the NY Times will more than double its day rate for photographers, bumping it up to US$450 from US$200. It spoke with ‘sources close to the paper’, but this hasn’t been confirmed elsewhere.
Click here to see Berehulak’s full project. Be warned, it shows graphic violence.