Adrees Latif on Reuters Pulitzer Prize-winning photo series 'On the Migrant Trail to America'
Reuters was named a winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, for International Reporting (co-winner the Associated Press) and Breaking News photography. Alongside Wa Lone, Kyaw Soe Oo and team, who were recognized for the ‘Myanmar Burning’ series, Reuters photographers Mike Blake, Lucy Nicholson, Loren Elliott, Edgard Garrido, Adrees Latif, Goran Tomasevic, Kim Kyung Hoon, Alkis Konstantinidis, Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Carlos Barria and Ueslei Marcelino were recognized for their photos of the mass migration of Central and South Americans towards the U.S. border. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Enterprise Editor for Reuters Pictures Adrees Latif offers behind-the-scenes look at how he and the team covered the story.
Q. How did the team get started covering the migrants journeying to the U.S. from Central and South America?
A. Starting in early April 2018, Claudia Daut, Reuters’ Latam Editor for Pictures, led coverage by assigning Mexico City-based photographers Edgard Garrido and Henry Romero to cover the first major migrant caravan which was heading towards the U.S. border. In the same month Corinne Perkins, Reuters North America Editor for Pictures, dictated coverage on the U.S. side of the border by assigning Loren Elliott, a freelance photographer based in Houston, Texas, to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. I, in my new role as Enterprise Editor, Reuters Pictures, made immigration a long-term priority and started coverage of the U.S. Mexico border in May. By the time the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy came to light in June, coverage of immigration was already a top focus for pictures in both Latin and North America. Both regions, overlooked by Rickey Rogers, the Global Head for Pictures, worked closely to select a global group of rotating photographers to keep up with developing stories and caravans. Towards the end, over a dozen photographers from Asia, Europe and North, South and Central America were involved to create an unmatched file of the migrant exodus from Central and South America.
Q. What did you experience covering the migrants?
A. Day-to-day, I witnessed the resilience of migrants as they risked their lives in pursuit of a better life for themselves and their children. On the U.S. border, I saw many shed tears of desperation after being caught hiding in deep brush or running from U.S. Border Patrol Agents. Others, dehydrated and disoriented, waved towards the agents for rescue. Along the Guatemala-Mexico border, migrants faced teargas and rubber bullets and risked drowning while wading through the deep and fast moving Suchiate River. Once on the ground, they walked for hours, days and months with nothing but rubber sandals and blistered feet. Even in hardship, I found the majority of migrants generally in high spirits and bound together as a community with fellow travelers. They shared what they could, hoisted each other’s children on their backs and through rushing waters. Their happiness was contained by the health and presence of their children and family members. As an immigrant myself, who journeyed to the U.S. at the age of seven, I saw myself in so many of the children who were making the perilous journey. It helped me cover their story with compassion and respect.
Q. What was the hardest part about covering the story?
A. The hardest part for me was witnessing migrants in need of water and food and not being able to assist when the group was too large. On the U.S. side, I would carry gallons of water in case I would run into a large group of asylum seekers in the midst of summer. While on the migrant trail through Mexico, it was simply impossible to help the thousands as they walked for hours in the hot sun.
Q. What makes you passionate about photojournalism?
A. The profound impact of the still image and its ability to touch and move people without ever needing a word to accompany it.
Q. How does it feel to be recognized by the Pulitzer committee? What does the win mean to you?
A. “The Migrant Trail to America” is a team entry which includes the work of 11 photographers. To be recognized with a team Pulitzer citation is a great honor because it is acknowledging not only the caliber of the images but all the collaboration and camaraderie that is necessary for a team of journalists to function at this level. My greatest satisfaction is to have a story I’ve worked on so intimately elevated so it continues to receive awareness from the public.
Q. What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?
A. The most rewarding experience is when your work is published and initiates positive change in society. The most difficult experiences as a journalist has been to witness human kind, especially children, suffer. This also becomes a catalyst to keep pursing journalism and give a voice to those most in need.
Q. Can you imagine being anything other than a photographer? If so, what?
A. Above all, I am a husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend. All of those titles have a sacred meaning to me. Outside of those personal roles, I have an interest in many things but nothing motivates or drives me like the ability to tell a story through images.