“I guess it was just a calling,” she said.
Now, a couple of decades and Pulitzer Prizes later, the issue-driven photojournalist will add another award to her shelf when she receives the Frank McCulloch Award for Courage in Journalism from the Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno on Thursday.
Davidson’s “Caught in the Crossfire” series for the Times in December 2010 earned her the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography last year. The series, as well as a 30-minute Emmy-winning documentary she made, chronicled those cut down by street violence. Davidson spent nearly two years in communities such as South Los Angeles, Compton and Watts, getting to know the residents for months before ever taking out her camera. She attended celebrations and birthday parties, as well as hospital beds and funerals.
“I spent a lot of time with these families and I’m still friends with them,” Davidson said last week in an interview with the University. “Their story has resonated with me the most and stayed with me the longest. It’s in my own backyard.”
Yet, Davidson said all of her work across the globe, seeking out humanitarian crisis and social issues that she believes are underreported by the popular media, touch and inspire her.
“I see myself as a visual humanitarian, and I’m drawn to covering the most vulnerable in our society,” she said.
Davidson won another Pulitzer Prize in 2006 with seven fellow staff members for their work depicting the conditions in New Orleans and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She also documented the tsunami disaster in 2004 and the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China. She has captured the human toll of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza, Bosnia and the Congo, and has also reported in Yemen, Nigeria and Rwanda.
“That’s awesome, I’m a little embarrassed really,” she said. “But, winning any award for work that is this important to our society is a wonderful honor. Awards like this draw more attention to the issue of gang violence in our country, and that was always my goal. Anytime the work is recognized or acknowledged, it brings more awareness of the work and the issue. And, the better we will all be for it.”
The Frank McCulloch Award for Courage in Journalism is named for the 1941 University of Nevada, Reno graduate Frank McCulloch, who went on to be the top news executive of Time Inc., the Los Angeles Times, the McClatchy newspapers and The San Francisco Examiner. McCulloch is known for his work as one of most talented war reporters, photographers and editors, partly for the work he directed in Saigon from 1964 to 67 as bureau chief for Time-Life News Service. The Frank McCulloch Award for Courage in Journalism was endowed by gifts from McCulloch, his family and friends, and the McClatchy Company Foundation.
The annual award was presented for the first time last year, when David Rohde, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times, received the award for his reporting in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he was held captive by the Taliban for more than seven months before escaping, and for his reporting on the Srebrenica massacre, where thousands of Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina were slaughtered.
The McCulloch Award presentation is at 3 p.m., Thursday, March 29 at the University’s Joe Crowley Student Union Theatre. It is free and open to the public.