Malaysian-born Marcus Yam wins Pulitzer Prize

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia-born Marcus Yam, 38, a journalist with The Los Angeles Times (The Times), has won the Pulitzer Prize for his pictures of the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan, to Taliban fighters last summer.

According to The Times, Yam took photographs of “unspeakable tragedy and abiding emotion” despite being roughed up by insurgents, being in close proximity with the fighters and the technical hurdles of sending images out of a war zone.

His “raw and urgent images of the US departure from Afghanistan that captured the human costs of the historic change in the country” was why he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Yam, who was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, became a photographer after leaving a career in aerospace engineering. He joined The Times in 2014.

He has been described as having employed an “almost radical open-mindedness” to capture scenes of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, his editors said.

Yam’s award in the breaking news category was the 49th Pulitzer Prize for The Times since 1942, including six gold medals for public service announced yesterday.

He had previously received national awards for photographs documenting the everyday plight of people enduring deadly clashes in the Gaza Strip in the Middle East.

Yam was part of two Pulitzer Prize-winning breaking news teams – for The Times in the coverage of the San Bernardino terrorist attacks in 2015 and for the Seattle Times when it reported on the deadly landslide in Oso, Washington, in 2014.

“In the summer of 2021, the Taliban’s lightning-fast advance and his instincts told Yam that the capital, Kabul, would soon fall. He packed his gear in 20 minutes and flew out of his temporary base in Lebanon, with just five minutes to spare,” The Times reported.

In Afghanistan, he was “set upon by a tall fighter, who hit him repeatedly in the head and demanded that he delete the photos he had been taking.”

Yam repeatedly identified himself and pleaded for the right of journalists to record the conflict, The Times said.

The aggressors apologised and offered Yam and another journalist energy drinks, and requested that they pose for selfies before the encounter ended.

“The bravery and the courage really belong to everyday Afghans, whose lives were changed overnight,” Yam said.

“As Westerners, we have the privilege of coming and going. And they are the ones that have to remain and face the unknown. So, this (the award) is for them,” Yam added.

“The work honoured today is a reflection of the depth and breadth of LA Times journalism, and its consistently high quality,” The Times executive editor Kevin Merida said.

“We are proud of Marcus Yam for the raw power and humanity of his photojournalism in Afghanistan.

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