Week 2 - Pulitzer 1943 - Water - Frank Noel
by, 10-09-2008 at 04:56 PM (4597 Views)
For the second week we have an image that, on it’s own, doesn’t have the same impact as the inaugural winner did. In my opinion however, it is a much more powerful image backed up by a sad story of a brief moment.
Pulitzer 1943 - Frank Noel - Water
Camera 4 x 5 Speed Graphic
During January of 1942 Frank “Poppy” Noel was covering the British troops, who were only a few steps ahead of the Japanese, in Singapore for Associated Press. The Pacific War was going badly, the Japanese bombers were beginning to hit the city and Noel had contracted malaria. Word got to Noel from New York that he was to head home and despite the weathered and tough persona, he was glad to be going home.
He booked passage on a freighter that would take him to Burma. His luggage for the 15,000 mile trip was a Speed Graphic and the clothes on his back. Less than 300 miles out of port on the Indian Ocean a Japanese torpedo ruptured their vessel. Noel was trapped in his cabin but managed to escape and board a life boat with twenty seven survivors out of the seventy seven original crew. They drifted aimlessly for five days in scorching tropic heat.
In the endless ocean a lifeboat drifted towards them. The boat carried Indian sailors, survivors from the freighter. They had lost their water supply in the rush to escape the sinking boat. As they neared Noel’s boat one of the sailors reached out with his hand and begged for water. Sadly, they had none to offer them. Noel - sick with malaria, thirst and low on morale - was switched on despite the hardships and pulled out his Speed Graphic. He took a single frame of the moment the sailor realised there was no water to be shared. The expression is heart crushing, the eyes conveying desperate sadness. The boats drifted apart and were later separated by a tropical storm. The other life boat was never seen again.
Noel’s career was always fraught with danger. He went on to cover the war in Europe, then the Palestine war in 1948 and later in Korea where he was captured by the Chinese early on and held prisoner. He did escape once but all that earned him was beatings and solitary confinement in a small cell.
Colleagues from Tokyo managed to somehow sneak in a camera for Noel. He took amazing pictures of POW’s which were snuck out. The first set was of Americans in prison uniforms, each one identified by name and town. The pictures were relayed around the world. Noel, amazingly, went on to photograph hundreds more and many were featured on front pages of newspapers around the world. He was rescued in an operation on 9 August 1953, a full 32 months after his capture.
He went on to work in New York for a while and later for AP in Florida where he retired and passed away far from war, prisons and lack of water.