By Daryl Lang|PDNONLINE | 13.01.09 |
© ANTHONY SUAU FOR TIME / VIA WORLD PRESS PHOTO
Suau's photograph of a sheriff's detective in Cleveland, Ohio, never ran in Time magazine but became the The World Press Photo of the Year for 2008.
Last spring Anthony Suau pleaded with Time magazine – where he's been a contract photographer for 20 years – to publish his photo essay on the economic crisis in Cleveland, Ohio.
"When I arrived there I was in shock," Suau recalls. "There was almost not a single street in Cleveland that didn't have a house that was boarded up because of a foreclosure." He compared the scene to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Time decided not to print the story, and Suau's pictures ran only on Time.com, where it drew little attention in the U.S. – until today, when one of Suau's Cleveland pictures won the World Press Photo of the Year award.
(Clarification, February 15, 2009: Suau's photo essay from Cleveland was published as a "Web Exclusive" in connection with Time's May 26, 2008 issue. However, some of Suau's images also ran in the print edition. The picture that would be named World Press Photo of the Year ran online only.)
In an interview shortly after the award was announced, Suau said he worries the economic crisis may leave him having to find another job or leave the home he just purchased for his family.
The last two months have been especially bad, Suau says. He hasn't had a single assignment except for covering the presidential inauguration for a Japanese book publisher.
"If the situation continues like it has in the last two months, down the road I would be in danger," Suau says. "Do I have to get another job to do something? I don't know. I may have to do something else besides photography."
Suau has covered conflicts and human crises around the world and has won two World Press Photo of the Year awards, the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography, and numerous other recognitions.
He shot the Cleveland story in March, a few months before the devastating impact of the mortgage crisis was fully understood. It would take until September, when investment banks began to fail and financial markets to begin to fall, for most Americans to take notice.
Last year Suau took one trip to Cleveland for three days, then requested that Time send him back for a longer return trip. On the second trip he arranged a two-day ride-along with a sheriff's detective who was handling evictions.
"I wanted so badly for that series of pictures to be published in the magazine, and everywhere people could see it," Suau says. The project had luck with secondary sales in Europe, where several magazines published it.
Suau says he was busy with assignment work last year and saw his archive sales go up in the fall as magazines turned to stock as a less-expensive alternative to assignments. Then business dried up.
At least three of the editors Suau worked with at Time have since left the magazine, some taking buyout packages, he says. (Time director of photography MaryAnne Golon was one of them; she is also the jury chair of this year's World Press Photo competition.)
Suau says he and other documentary photographers want to work on stories about the human impact of the economic crisis, but the decline in newspapers and magazines has made it hard to find funding. "It's incredibly frustrating for photographers in America," he says. "We need to be working."
Suau recently purchased a home in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lives with his wife and eight-year-old daughter. "We live in a nice area," Suau says, adding, "I know what's happening to me, but what's happening to other people is worse."
Suau shot his World Press Photo of the Year on March 26, near the end of his two-day ride-along with a sheriff's officer. He used a Leica film camera loaded with Kodak TRI-X black-and-white film.
In the picture, Detective Robert Cole of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department aims a gun into a room as he clears a house for eviction. An elderly couple had lived there and the husband had apparently died, Suau says.
There were no people in the house at the time, and the destruction seen in the photo was from vandals, who loot abandoned homes for valuable property.
Suau says there was evidence vandals had taken a weapon from this home; ammunition and a holster were left behind.
"Every second I was there [in Cleveland], I was walking into another moment of human tragedy," Suau says. "I worked from morning to night in that place and there was never a moment's rest."
Suau said the project "shook me to my core" and reminded him of the destruction he witnessed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"Inner city Cleveland is pretty much at this point closed down," he says. "If that was the future of other cities in the United States on a large scale, then where are we going?"