By: Joe Strupp
When the Pulitzer Prizes are handed out Monday at the annual awards luncheon, none of the recipients will likely receive more accolades than Jahangir Razmi. Although he did not expose corruption in business, housing authority abuse or ongoing damage to the world’s oceans — as some of his fellow winners did — his journalistic service is equally notable, as is his patience.
That’s because Razmi, now 58, has waited 27 years for his prize, despite winning it in 1980. His dramatic photo of an Iranian firing squad executing 11 men in 1979, which won the Spot News award for United Press International at the time, has always been credited simply to “anonymous.”
But the impact and drama of the photo, taken in the midst of the post-Shah regime change that eventually resulted in the 444-day hostage ordeal at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, was never lessened. Razmi, who lives in Tehran, had kept his photo credit secret, fearing that disclosure at the time, or even in the decades that followed, could mean the end of his life.
He chose to come forward in December when Joshua Prager of The Wall Street Journal tracked him down and convinced him to reveal his hidden accomplishment. Part of the reason was that, over the years, several other photographers had taken credit for the work.
“It will add a dramatic flourish,” Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler said about Razmi’s special acceptance. “It is an unprecedented event. We have never had an anonymous prize-winner.” He said Razmi, who arrived Thursday in New York, will receive the same certificate as other Pulitzer winners, along with a $10,000 cash prize, well above the $1,000 he would have received in 1980. “That is the value of the prize today,” Gissler explained.
Prager is the same reporter who, in 2001, uncovered a secret sign-stealing system used by the 1951 pennant-winning New York Giants.
In an online video interview on the Journal site, Prager said he had been searching for Razmi for more than four years after seeing the award-winning photo in a collection without the photographer’s name. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, there must be a story there’,” he said in the interview. He did not disclose specifics of how he found Razmi, only that it took another three years to even get to Iran. Prager could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“Emboldened by time and dismayed by the opportunism of his fellow photographers, Mr. Razmi decided the moment was right to tell his tale after this newspaper approached him,” Prager wrote in a moving Page One story about the award-winner. “My name should be there,” Razmi told Prager in the piece.
Prager’s story detailed how Razmi, then a reporter for the Iranian daily Ettela’at, had spent years covering Iranian news, eventually becoming such a regular presence in the headquarters of Ayatollah Khomeini “that he came to greet the imam with a handshake.” That inside access proved valuable on Aug. 16, 1979, when Razmi was present for one of several executions of Kurds by the revolutionary regime, according to Prager’s story.
After attending a quick trial, with no evidence, at a municipal airport in the Kurdistan capital of Sanandaj, Razmi followed the prisoners to a nearby dirt airfield and stood behind one of the gunmen, taking some 27 images as the killings occurred. Eventually, after appearing in Ettela’at without named credit, the image was picked up by UPI, later running on Aug. 29, 1979 in papers ranging from The New York Times to Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel, Prager reported.
The Pulitzer Prize credit disclosed only that the winner was UPI, which had distributed the photos.
But in the aftermath, Razmi had to remain anonymous as various Iranian authorities and investigators sought to track him down, eventually taking control of his newspaper. He continued covering news, later receiving a deafening injury to his right ear covering the Iran-Iraq war in 1987, Prager wrote. The Pulitzer winner soon after quit the newspaper business and opened a photography studio.
Still, he did not want to disclose his connection to his most famous photos, telling Prager last year, “My sons have told me a lot of times that I should go and prove that I am the photographer…I said, ‘no, better not.'”
But come Monday, with Prager expected to be among those in the audience, Razmi will finally get his long-awaited prize. He has already received credit, with the Journal noting him as the photographer when it ran the photos with Prager’s story, and the Pulitzer Web site already updating the 1980 winner’s list to include him and Ettela’at.