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Captured Pulitzer-Winning Alum To Be Released Today

NY Times’ Tyler Hicks, three colleagues spent three days in captivity

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Tyler Hicks (COM’92) and three other New York Times journalists will be released today. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks, one of four journalists who were reported missing Wednesday in eastern Libya, has been found, according to a story in the New York Times. All of the journalists will be released today. A veteran war photographer, Hicks (COM’92) and his Times colleagues were swept up by Libyan government forces as they covered the flight of rebels from the town of Ajdabiya. Hicks is scheduled to be the College of Communication convocation speaker on Commencement Sunday, May 22, 2011.

The other journalists are Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid, a winner of two Pulitzers and a former Boston Globe reporter; Stephen Farrell, a reporter and videographer, who has been kidnapped twice before, in Iraq in 2004 and in Afghanistan in 2009; and photographer Lynsey Addario, also a Pulitzer winner and a 2009 MacArthur fellow, according to the Times.

Hicks, 41, has covered numerous conflicts around the world, including those in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He began working for the Times as a contract photographer in 1999 and was hired as a staff photographer in 2002. He received an International Center of Photography Infinity Award that year, and he and another Times photographer were Pulitzer finalists for their “dramatic yet humane” images of the war in Afghanistan. In 2007 he was named Newspaper Photographer of the Year by Pictures of the Year International, and two years later, he was among the Times staff members who won journalism’s top prize, a Pulitzer, for their coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The College of Communication honored Hicks with an Alumni Award in 2004. According to the Times, he lives in Istanbul.

Earlier this month, the Times’ Lens blog posted an interview with Hicks from Libya. He described the heavy fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Muammar el-Qaddafi in the northern town of Ras Lanuf.

“One unusual thing is the access we have to frontline fighting,” Hicks said in the interview. “Despite what a lot of people think, when you go to a war zone, there are a lot of formalities and difficulties to reach the fighting. You can get into a country but to get to where the conflict is happening can be very difficult. This is a very rare situation: complete access to a war, from the opposition side.”

Hicks noted that he was not alone in Libya. “In these situations, you don’t want to go completely on your own,” he said. “I had driven down with three other news photographers. We were always—for the most part—within sight of one another until the end of the day, when we got split up and retreated in different vehicles, probably within 5 or 10 minutes of one another.”

Hicks has spent much of his career in the thick of the action. In a 2004 interview with Bostonia, he said, “A large part of this type of photography is getting access to the place where the pictures are happening.” He noted that fear has never prevented him from taking a photo, but that he is by no means reckless. “The people I respect are not taking foolish risks,” he said. “They are thinking things through.”

That attitude has served him well through many wars, says Peter Smith, a COM senior lecturer in photojournalism, who has remained good friends with his former student. Smith says that Hicks prefers to work close to the action. “That’s where he wants to be,” he says. “He shoots up close. He witnesses it, not from a distance.”

Joseph Lippincott, a COM lecturer in photojournalism, agrees. “Tyler used 35mm and 28mm wide angle lenses on his Leicas when he was shooting film in the predigital
 days,” he says. “These lenses require the photographer to get very up-close-and-personal with his subjects, giving an immediacy to the foreground that involves the viewer with the subjects.

“He has continued this style with digital,” Lippincott says. “His images are truly photojournalistic. He frames his images with strong, immediate, storytelling foregrounds. He is a master at utilizing whatever light is present to set the mood to best tell the story.”

Lippincott says Hicks was one of the most notable and accomplished students he’s taught. “Tyler is first and foremost a true gentle man, two words, who feels sincere compassion for those he lives among and photographs, in some of the most horrific hellholes on earth,” he says. “He is the true example of a great modern-day conflict photographer.”

Smith says that in the classroom he often points to Hicks and his work. When students recently complained about a feature photo assignment—yearning to cover news—Smith reminded them that Hicks is also a feature photographer. “Tyler obviously gets the action when the bullets are flying,” he says. But he will also pause to capture the quieter moments that illustrate the ravages of war.

“He’s our star,” says Smith. “He leads the way. I don’t want to say he justifies our being, but it’s certainly a lot easier when you have an example like him to talk about.”

Still, Smith says, he worries about his friend and has advised Hicks to consider settling down. “I call him—Tyler, get a girl, get married, have a couple of kids,” he says. “He says, ‘When I’m an old fart like you, I might start to think about it.’”

Cynthia K. Buccini can be reached at cbuccini@bu.edu.

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