Suau wins top World Press Photo prize for foreclosure picture

An armed officer of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department moving through a home in Cleveland, Ohio, following eviction as a result of mortgage foreclosure. (© ANTHONY SUAU FOR TIME/VIA WORLD PRESS PHOTO)
An armed officer of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department moving through a home in Cleveland, Ohio, following eviction as a result of mortgage foreclosure. (© ANTHONY SUAU FOR TIME/VIA WORLD PRESS PHOTO)

Anthony Suau, who cut his photographic teeth and won a Pulitzer Prize at The Denver Post in the 1980s, took top honors at the World Press Photo competition, the organization announced Friday. The black-and-white photo Suau shot in March for TIME magazine shows an armed Cuyahoga County sheriff’s deputy clearing a debris-strewn Cleveland home whose owners were evicted after losing the home to foreclosure. The winning photo is part of a story — which also took second place in the WPP’s Daily Life category — commissioned by TIME but published online only. It’s the second time Suau has won the WPP’s top prize.

“When I arrived there I was in shock,” Suau told Photo District News shortly after learning he’d won the prestigious award. “There was almost not a single street in Cleveland that didn’t have a house that was boarded up because of a foreclosure.”

The photographer, who recently purchased a house in Brooklyn, told the online photo news site that a dearth of assignments could spell the end to his three-decade career as a photographer covering some of the world’s most distressed places. “If the situation continues like it has in the last two months, down the road I would be in danger,” Suau told PDN. “Do I have to get another job to do something? I don’t know. I may have to do something else besides photography.”

Suau, who has worked for TIME as a contract photographer for 20 years, said the horizon for photojournalists remains bleak as newspapers and magazines continue to suffer financially. Documentary photographers “want to work on stories about the human impact of the economic crisis,” PDN wrote, but budget tightening at news organizations make that more difficult. “It’s incredibly frustrating for photographers in America,” Suau said. “We need to be working.”

One of Suau’s former photo editors at TIME, MaryAnne Golon, is among several at the publication who have recently taken buyouts amid cutbacks. Golon, who chaired the WPP contest jury, had this to say about Suau’s Cleveland photo: “The strength of the picture is in its opposites,” she said in a statement. “It’s a double entendre. It looks like a classic conflict photograph, but it is simply the eviction of people from a house following foreclosure. Now war in its classic sense is coming into people’s houses because they can’t pay their mortgages.”

Suau shot the winning photo during a two-day ride-along with sheriff’s deputies, the photographer told PDN. “Every second I was there, I was walking into another moment of human tragedy,” he said. The destruction in the Ohio city, wrought by economic disaster, reminded him of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. “Inner-city Cleveland is pretty much at this point closed down,” Suau said. “If that was the future of other cities in the United States on a large scale, then where are we going?”

Suau won a 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography when he covered mass starvation in Ethiopia for The Denver Post. After winning the Pulitzer, Suau decamped from Denver but continued covering the world’s most troubled spots, including famine in Eritrea, genocide in Rwanda, war in Chechnya and a decade-long project documenting changes in the former Soviet bloc. Visit the photographer’s Web site here.

Suau will formally accept the award — including a cash prize of 10,000 euros ($12,800) and a Canon camera — at a ceremony in Amsterdam on May 2. Photographers from 124 different countries submitted 96,268 photographs for the competition, which is sponsored in part by the Dutch national lottery. The jury awarded prizes to 64 photographers from 27 countries. View a gallery of winning World Press Photo photographs here.

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