Pulitzer for photography awarded to son of Point Reyes couple

04/17/2014

Josh Haner, a photojournalist for The New York Times whose parents retired in Point Reyes Station, won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography on Monday “for his moving essay on a Boston Marathon bomb blast victim who lost most of both legs and is now painfully rebuilding his life,” the award citation said. 

A San Francisco native, Mr. Haner began photographing as a hobby at age 10 with a Pentax camera his father, Doug, had brought back from the Peace Corps in 1968, developing pictures at the Harvey Milk Community Darkroom. In high school, one of his favorite places to photograph was the Steep Ravine trail on Mount Tamalpais, where, on days of heavy rain, veins of runoff crisscrossed the hillsides through a veil of fog. 

“My dad would sometimes take me out of school for a field trip to Point Reyes, where we’d hike the Bear Valley Trail up to Divide Meadow and beyond, learning about the different trees and mosses,” Mr. Haner said. “I’ve always loved nature and miss it more than ever while out on the East Coast.” 

When Mr. Haner graduated from Stanford, Doug and his wife, Bonnie Tank, retired from their jobs as teachers and moved to the area, kitty-corner to Art Rogers’ studio. During his freshman year, Mr. Haner phoned his parents to ask if they would be upset having spent so much of their salaries if he “turned out to be just a photographer.” His parents asked, “Will you be a happy photographer?” 

At his acceptance speech, Mr. Haner said, “Well, in case it’s not clear, I stand here the happiest I’ve ever been and it’s because you both encouraged me to follow my passion.” 

A year ago, on April 15, 2013, Mr. Haner was celebrating four Pulitzer prizes his colleagues had won. In the middle of speeches, the news of explosions at the Boston Marathon hit the newsroom, and he drove to Boston to photograph “the hunt for suspects, the funerals and memorials; the pain, shock and confusion.” One of the signature images that captured the turmoil of the day was of a 27-year-old named Jeff Bauman, a Costco employee who lived with his mother in the suburbs and was waiting at the end for his girlfriend to finish the race. 

In the picture, Mr. Bauman is being pushed in a wheelchair, his legs bleeding and held together by tourniquets. He was the face of a tragedy, and then he was gone, Mr. Haner said. Days later, as he was returning to New York, he got a phone call from an editor telling him a reporter had found Mr. Bauman. 

“In one version of this retelling, I say that I jumped at the opportunity, instantly recognized the potential for a once-in-a-lifetime assignment,” Mr. Haner said. “In another version of the retelling—what some might call the truth—I turned it down because I was exhausted.” But with a phone call from another editor, he was convinced. 

For two and a half months, Mr. Haner and a Times reporter spent time with Mr. Bauman, playing video games with him when he was alone and accompanying him to appointments with doctors and physical therapists. “Since I was photographing the same things every day, in the same location, I had to force myself to get more and more creative,” Mr. Haner said, “and I think that is what pushed me to make better photographs.” 

One of his favorite pictures in the series was a close-up, “almost claustrophobic,” of the left side of Mr. Bauman’s face, with the focus only on his eye and pursed lips. Mr. Haner at first only noticed that something was different about the way Mr. Bauman’s eyes looked; only later did he realize the eyelashes had burned in the explosion and were slowly growing back. “This detail is something I hope the viewers notice and tells so much about what Jeff went through that last day in April,” Mr. Haner said. 

One of the highlights of his time with Mr. Bauman was seeing him stand in prosthetic legs for the first time. Mr. Haner had tears even as he shot the scene—Doug’s favorite image—and Mr. Bauman’s girlfriend hugged him, saying, “I love that you’re taller than me again and I can stand up and kiss you.” 

The award comes at a poignant time for Mr. Haner and Mr. Bauman, just before the first anniversary, timing he hopes will remind Americans of the pain of the attack. “It’s what I wanted my whole life,” Mr. Haner told the Times of the award, “since I picked up the camera and was reading all the credits in the San Francisco Chronicle and was trying to figure out who all these photographers were and hoping one day to be among them.” What’s next? Mr. Haner said he hopes this won’t be the apex, but rather “an affirmation that will put me on the path to what I hope will be a long and fruitful career.”