story behind Pulitzer Prize photo
By Lindel Hutson, 2008 Inductee
It is three hours after a bomb ripped open the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, and The Associated Press bureau in Oklahoma City is in a frenzy.
Our phones ringing nonstop. Reporters call in dictation. Photographers hustle to transmit images. Every executive in New York wants me. There’s an old saying in the AP: there’s a deadline every minute, and the clock was ticking loudly that sunny but black morning of April 19, 1995. We are center stage worldwide.
Into this mania steps of fair-headed, bespectacled young man wearing a confused look. he walks up to the receptionist and asks if we want to buy photos from downtown. She directs him to the photo area where I stand behind photographer David Longstreath. The initial reaction is, what can this young guy whose hobby is photography possibly have to forward our coverage of the nation’s biggest story? After all, we’re the pros. Who is he?
Charles Porter IV had gone through the trouble to have his film processed and I decided to look at his prints rather than politely ask him to leave. He had a look of sincerity about him, and I didn’t want to be rude even in the midst of chaos.
I flipped through a half-dozen pictures that were not wire worth.
Then the next photo stunned me.
Porter’s photo showed a fireman cradling a bloodied baby. It was one of the most heart-wrenching photos I had ever seen. To this day it is hard for me to look at.
It would become the iconic image of the Oklahoma City bombing. Porter had two photos that I purchased after some brief negotiations. The baby was tiny Baylee Almon. She would have turned one year old the next day. She died shortly after the photo was taken, but we did not know that at the time.
Holding her was firefighter Chris Fields. In one of the photo—which did not get much use—-field is being handed the baby by a police officer who had pulled her from the rubble.
When transmitted, the photo of fields holding Baylee took on a life of its own. It was on the front page of nearly every newspaper around the world. It was on the cover of Newsweek magazine.
Porter, the mild-mannered bank teller who had only recently graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma, became an instant celebrity. His photo was named photo of the year by the British press photographers and Porter and his wife were flown to London for the award. For AP, it won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography.
His was the classic case of being in the right place at the right time and getting the right advice. After he snapped the pictures, he took the film to Walmart for processing. There, the women who worked the film became the first to see the pictures and started crying.
Unsure what to do with the photos, Porter called a friend from UCO who suggested he contact Woody Gaddis. Gaddis built the photography program at UCO and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
Gaddis thought the photos needed the widest distribution possible, and suggested Porter go to AP.