Miami Herald photographer Patrick Farrell wins Pulitzer for Haiti images

04/20/2009 3:00 PM

05/18/2009 11:36 AM

Veteran Miami Herald photographer Patrick Farrell has been awarded journalism's biggest award, the Pulitzer Prize, for his harrowing images of the victims of the storms that ravaged Haiti in 2008.

Farrell, 49, visited Haiti four times during last year's hurricane season, capturing scenes of the dead and the survivors of a series of storms that generated devastating flooding across the impoverished nation.

He was in Haiti the night Hurricane Ike -- the fourth storm to hit there in a month -- washed across the already overwhelmed countryside, drowning even more homes and people.

Farrell's published photographs, along with stories by Miami Herald Caribbean correspondent Jacqueline Charles and Herald reporter Trenton Daniel, are credited with helping raise international awareness of the storms' toll on Haiti and its people's struggle to survive in the aftermath.

''Patrick's photography is the most provocative and at times disturbing storytelling work that I have seen or edited,'' said Luis Rios, The Herald's director of photography. ``It is exceptional documentary photography with a purpose -- to chronicle the misery and heartache of the Haitian people.''

The Pulitzer Prize jurors recognized a package of 19 black-and-white photographs, entitled ''A People in Despair: Haiti's Year Without Mercy.'' The images range from the flooded streets of Gonaives, to the aftermath of a storm-related school collapse in Port au Prince, and the deadly toll on children in the rural town of Cabaret who were washed away from their parents' grasp by rushing floodwaters.

In all, more than 800 Haitians died and more than 1 million were left homeless by the unrelenting series of storms.

Farrell's Haiti photographs have also won the Society of Professional Journalists' 2008 Sigma Delta Chi Award for excellence in journalism in Photography Spot News, as well as awards in the Pictures of the Year International competition and the 75th National Headliner Awards.

Farrell, a Miami native, has been a Herald staff photographer since 1987. He's a member of the class of 1977 at Christopher Columbus High, a Miami Catholic school, where he ran cross country and shot photos for the school yearbook. He graduated in 1981 with a bachelor of arts degree in television and film production from the University of Miami.

Farrell grew up in the High Pines neighborhood of unincorporated Miami-Dade County near South Miami, the seventh of 12 children born to Dr. James and Peggie Farrell.

Farrell says he owes his discovery of photography to an eye injury he suffered when he was shot in the right eye by a BB gun pellet while he was trick-or-treating on Halloween 1971. He spent a week with both eyes bandaged shut at Larkin General Hospital in South Miami.

His view of the world changed after his bandages were removed, and he began to pay more attention to the details and light around him, Farrell says. As a result of the eye injury, Farrell is a ''left-eye shooter'' and holds the camera up to his left eye. (Most people naturally shoot with their right eye.)

After he discovered photography, he destroyed a bathroom in his parents' home by turning it into a darkroom.

Farrell started his career working for several small community papers in Florida.

His Herald assignments have taken him to Turkey, Haiti, Cuba and throughout Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean. He was part of the Herald staff that won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for the coverage of Hurricane Andrew's devastation in South Florida.

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