Photographer documenting Ebola dies of apparent heart attack – USA TODAY
A Pulitzer-prize winning Washington Post photojournalist known most recently for his haunting images of the Ebola crisis in Liberia died Thursday afternoon of an apparent heart attack. Michel du Cille was 58-years-old.
Du Cille, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, was in the news in October after Syracuse University withdrew an invitation for him to show his photographs from Liberia and discuss his experiences at a conference due to fears about the spread of Ebola.
The photojournalist was on assignment for the Post when he collapsed after returning from a village in Liberia’s Bong County, according to the Post.
“Michel collapsed during a strenuous hike on the way back from a village where he and Justin Jouvenal were reporting,” Post executive editor Martin Baron said Thursday in an e-mail statement to the staff. “He remained unconscious, and was taken to a nearby clinic, where he had difficulty breathing. He was then transported to Phebe Hospital, two hours away, where he was declared dead by doctors.”
Baron wrote, “We are all heartbroken. We have lost a beloved colleague and one of the world’s most accomplished photographers.”
Du Cille’s career took him from Afghanistan to Sierra Leone to Liberia, and from the Miami Herald to the photo editing desk of the Washington Post. He won Pulitzers for his work on a series exposing mistreatment of wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the eruption of a volcano in Colombia and crack cocaine addicts in a Miami housing project. He had an undergraduate degree from Indiana University and a master’s degree from Ohio University. From 2007 to 2012, he was the Post’s assistant managing editor for photography.
Du Cille was a journalist who seemed to feel most at home on the front lines, where trouble was happening, said Jackie Jones, chair of the Department of Multimedia Journalism at Morgan State University and a former colleague of du Cille’s at the Post. Jones said she’d just heard du Cille speak by Skype from Liberia to a group in Mississippi and that she was hoping to have him meet with her students when he returned from this tour in Liberia.
“Michel’s mission was to tell people’s stories, especially those who couldn’t tell their own, and he saw photojournalism as storytelling,” Jones said. “He was really committed to going back again and again, going to Haiti, any trouble zone, because that’s where folks needed their stories told the most.”
Jones was an assignment editor on the city desk at the Post and would frequently confer with him about potential photos for stories when he was a photo assignment editor, she said. But he seemed most happy and comfortable when he was taking the pictures himself, she said.
“Certain photographers … you see what they see, and Michel was that kind of a photographer,” Jones said.
Neil Foote, professor at the Mayborn School of Journalism, University of North Texas, shared an apartment with du Cille and two other journalists when they were all starting out their careers at the Miami Herald. Foote remembered his friend as a kind man and a good cook who liked to prepare curried goat and rice and peas from his native Jamaica.
“He was just a gentle soul, a driven soul, and he would give you the shirt off his back,” Foote said.
As a photographer, he had an eye that saw what most people did not, Foote said. “He just had this way to get people comfortable and he knew how to visualize the story like no one else could.”
After the withdrawn invitation from Syracuse, Kenny Irby, senior faculty member with the Poynter Institute, a journalism education organization, interviewed du Cille and asked him how he drew the Ebola and Liberia assignment.
“I volunteered,” du Cille told Irby. “I love working in West Africa and thought the Ebola story was historic. I didn’t want to miss it.”
Du Cille leaves behind a wife, fellow Post photographer Nikki Khan, and two children.
In a piece that appeared in October in the Post, du Cille wrote, “I have taken pride over my 40-plus years as a photojournalist in offering dignity to subjects I photograph, especially those who are sick or in distress while in front of the camera. My recent photographic assignment to cover the Ebola outbreak in Africa has proved exceedingly challenging for me.”
Du Cille added, “I believe that the world must see the horrible and dehumanizing effects of Ebola. The story must be told; so one moves around with tender care, gingerly, without extreme intrusion.”