Remembering Michel du Cille

By Joey Starling

Stanford University

A picture can be worth a thousand words, but for Kevin Merida, it’s the man behind the pictures who means much more. Merida, managing editor for The Washington Post, recently paid tribute to his former coworker Michel du Cille at the 2015 ASNE-APME Convention at Stanford University.

Merida believes that du Cille “completely changed the culture and legacy of photography in a text driven world.” du Cille is remembered for carefully monitoring a story that could easily go unnoticed, for example, a crack house,  and producing his best work, Merida said. “When asked why he often chose to cover such weighty topics, du Cille would reply, “The story must be told.”

du Cille produced groundbreaking work for The Miami Herald early in his career before making the move to The Washington Post. After a 17-year stint as photo editor, du Cille became the Post’s senior photographer in June 2005. His career is highlighted by three Pulitzer Prizes. du Cille won his first Pulitzer in 1985, for his coverage of a volcanic eruption in Colombia.

Merida recounted du Cille’s coverage of a Miami crack house in 1987. After spending two weeks on the job, Merida remembers asking du Cille if he had any pictures ready. du Cille had not even brought his camera to the crack house.

“He had to have a connection with the people on the other side of the camera. He wanted to tell the story the right way, and do the right thing by the subjects,” said Merida. “Life Inside the Crackhouse” won du Cille his second Pulitzer Prize.

du Cille won his third Pulitzer in 2008, alongside Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and Anne Hull, after exposing the mistreatment of vets at Walter Reed Hospital. Merida believes that du Cille was “very instrumental in winning trust and cooperation with the veterans. After a while, vets were asking, “Where is Michel?”

du Cille passed away in Liberia on December 11, 2014, from an apparent heart attack. He was covering the Ebola virus outbreak, an assignment he called “very emotional and challenging” in a video conference with his colleagues from The Washington Post just days before his death.

du Cille was passionate about covering the Ebola outbreak. He was on his fourth trip to Liberia when he passed away. Merida believes du Cille’s passion showed in his final days, saying “It’s some of the most amazing work of his career.”

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Joel Achenbach, a staff writer for the The Washington Post, also shared his thoughts on du Cille’s legacy. “Michel was a great person in addition to a great photographer. He believed people and their suffering mattered.”

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