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A Pelican Crucified: A Pulitzer for Wildlife Photography?

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Charlie Riedel of the Associated Press deserves a Pulitzer Prize for his photos of the oil-slicked pelicans of the Louisiana coast. It would be an unconventional choice. Human subjects have consistently hogged the spotlight in Breaking News Photography and Feature Photography.

These aren’t just pictures of birds, they are portraits of suffering. Riedel’s photographs of the oil-slicked sea birds evoke a range of emotions from reproach to dejection. Above all, I love photography because it’s concise. A single image can burn the truth into your brain in an instant: BP trashed the Gulf, we let it happen and now we have no idea what to do. We’re as helpless as these oil-soaked birds.

The first image looks less like a bird than a shambling mound of oil, a cloudy-eyed sci-fi monster of our own creation.

In another photo, a dead raven lies on its back in the surf with its blackened spindly legs sticking up. It’s entire body has been enrobed a coat of oil so thick that you can’t tell where its eyes are. A stark memento mori.

In yet another image, we see a brown pelican with its beak tucked into its breast, glistening like a well-greased thanksgiving turkey. The bird’s have an milky opalescent sheen from the oil. It might already be blind. It’s a study in abject physical misery.

The most horrifying image is the pelican rearing up out of the water, dripping oil–wings spread, beak gaping, eyes bulging. He looks like he’s being crucified.


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