A new exhibition at the National Constitution Center brings together some of the most visually arresting photographs ever published. “Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs” displays every newspaper image to ever win a Pulitzer Prize for photography, in the feature, breaking news and spot news categories, since the prize was first awarded in 1942.
Many of the winners will be familiar to viewers: Joe Rosenthal’s iconic image of Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, which won the prize in 1945; Nathaniel Fein’s from-behind perspective on Babe Ruth’s final appearance in Yankee Stadium, which was awarded the 1949 Pulitzer; Robert H. Jackson’s 1964 winner, a photo of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald; Slava Veder’s perfect capture of the joy of a Vietnam prisoner of war’s family reunion on the tarmac, which won the 1974 prize for Feature Photography; the 1996 winner for Spot Photography by Charles Porter IV, which showed a firefighter cradling a 1-year-old victim of the Oklahoma City bombing. The list goes on, with over 100 large-format images that turn the Constitution Center’s exhibition space into a photo essay of our last 80 years.
The show is the brainchild of Cyma Rubin, who first curated it back in the 1990s. Rubin, a New York City native who, in an Armani suit and Chanel Oxford heels, dresses as impeccably as you might imagine a former fashion industry executive would, says the idea for the show did not originate with the Pulitzer organization — or even in the United States.
After leaving the fashion world, Rubin became an entertainment producer. “One of my clients in the 1990s was Nippon Television,” she says. “I had just done a wildly successful production of Porgy and Bess with the Houston Grand Opera, and they wanted something else. Knowing that the Japanese loved photography, I thought of the Pulitzer, even though I knew very little about it.”
That was in 1994. After four years of exhaustive research, which included finding negatives, interviewing past winners and incorporating new winners, the first show opened in Japan in 1998, followed by its American debut at the Newseum’s New York City exhibition space in 2000. Since first opening, it has been seen by over 3 million people, including 250,000 visitors in Taiwan, the stop before Philadelphia. The photos have reached millions more thanks to Rubin’s accompanying documentary, Moment of Impact, for which she won the 2000 Emmy for Best Documentary.
But Rubin is consciously avoiding the largest audience in the world — and with good reason. “The Chinese have come to me three times to bring the show there, and I have said no each time,” she says with a wry smile. “They wanted me to take out the picture of Tiananmen Square” — the 1990 Pulitzer-winning image from David C. Turnley. “I refused. The Taiwanese love that story.”
IF YOU GO
“Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs”
National Constitution Center
525 Arch St.