Alumnus Wins Pulitzer Prize for Risky Photo

April 17, 2008

It was gutsy move for University of Houston alumnus Adrees Latif to photograph the fatal shooting of a fellow journalist last year.

With no regard for his own safety and with one click of his camera, Latif captured the killing of Japanese videographer Kenji Nagai amid the violent protests against the Burmese government. Latif’s picture won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography.

“As I am filled with joy (for winning the Pultizer), I must take a moment to remember videographer Kenji Nagai — a fellow journalist whom I photographed in his final moments of life, while covering his last assignment,” said Latif, who works as a photojournalist for Reuters.

Last year, Latif sneaked into Myanmar (Burma) without media credentials, since foreign journalists were prohibited from entering the country during nationwide protests against the government.

On Sept. 23, he arrived at Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, with “some old clothes, a Canon 5D camera, two fixed lenses and a laptop,” Latif said. 

“For the next four days, my routine was the same,” Latif said. “I would walk to the Shwedagon Pagoda (a sacred shrine encased with gold and jewels) and climb its marble steps to wait for the monks. Dozens of people, including monks, asked me who I was and what I was doing . . . My replies were guarded.”

On Sept. 27 in the middle of town, demonstrators gathered, taunting soldiers, who threw barbed wire coils across the roads. Eventually, the crowd grew from hundreds to a few thousand.

“Two dark green, open-top army trucks approached, followed by dozens more packed with riot police,” Latif explained. “They were hit by a barrage of water bottles, fruit and abuse from the crowd.”

Two minutes after Latif had prepped his camera, the shooting started. He photographed four frames of a man on his back. Unaware of the man’s identity, Latif first thought the man had been trampled. Two of the frames showed the man’s face. A few hours later, his colleagues in Japan had identified the man as Nagai.

A native of Pakistan, Latif moved to Houston with his family at age 7. His first photojournalism class at Jersey Village High School when he was 15 years old sparked his love for the field. That passion led him to UH, where his biggest influence was photojournalist Richard Carson.

“He spotted my drive and worked with me in pursuing my dream as a photojournalist,” Latif said. “He assisted me with contacts and internships, which would eventually land me a staff photographer position at the Houston Post.”

Latif also was a Daily Cougar photographer and photo editor before graduating from UH.

“Working at the university newspaper, the Daily Cougar, prepared me for the daily challenges one faces as a professional,” Latif said.

He also worked at the Houston Chronicle before accepting a position at Reuters. He now works for Reuters in Bangkok, from where he covers news across Asia. He hopes to “keep pursuing my career as a photojournalist and influencing people through my photographs.”

Staff reports