Note: Beginning after the New Year, I was planning to do a series of posts titled “People I Have Known,” sort of “my brush with history,” as I have been privileged to know a number of people who went on to accomplish great things in life. Sadly, I received news today of the untimely death of one of those people I wanted to feature. So today, I begin this series with Michel duCille who passed away two days ago while on assignment in Liberia.
My first job out of college was as a newspaper reporter for The Times, a daily newspaper in Gainesville, Georgia. Although he was only in high school, Mike duCille was the newspaper’s staff photographer. That was back in the days of film cameras and darkrooms, and every day after school Mike came to work, went into the darkroom, and developed the photos the news reporters had taken during the previous 24 hours. If a news story broke while he was working, Mike would take the photos himself.
When I was hired by the paper, a camera was thrust into my hands, and I was told to take my own news photos, which I did with great fear and trepidation at first. It was Mike who helped put me at ease with the camera and showed me how to develop my own photos in the darkroom.
One of my most vivid memories of Mike is the time he decided to photograph Glade Shoals in northern Hall County, Ga. Located on private property, Glade Shoals is less of a shoals and more of a waterfall, 125 feet in height. Many people have been seriously injured and some have died after falling on the slippery rock.
Mike did fall while photographing the shoals/waterfall and ended up in the hospital with some serious injuries. The hospital had a strict rule that no more than two visitors were allowed in a patient’s room at a time, but several reporters wanted to go together to visit Mike.
On the very day our newspaper ran an editorial asking the good people of Hall County to follow hospital rules, the newspaper’s reporters were, one by one, sneaking by the front desk of the hospital and going up to Mike’s room where, as quite a large group, we had a great time visiting him. He later made a full recovery.
After high school, Mike left us and went off to college. He interned at the Louisville Courier Journal and the Miami Herald before receiving his degree in journalism from Indiana University in 1981. That same year he went to work for the Miami Herald. In 1985, he won his first Pulitzer Prize for photo coverage of a volcanic eruption in Colombia. His second Pulitzer Prize came two years later and was for feature photography, after he had spent months photographing life inside a crack house in Miami.
In 1988, Mike joined the Washington Post as photo editor. In his work at the Post, he covered civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the 1990s, won a third Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for photo coverage of the treatment of veterans at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., oversaw photographic coverage of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, came under fire while covering the war in Afghanistan in 2013, and recently returned to west Africa to cover the Ebola crisis in Liberia.
According to an article in the Washington Post two days ago, Mike “collapsed after returning from a village in the Salala district of Liberia’s Bong County, where he had been working with Post reporter Justin Jouvenal. He was transported over dirt roads to a hospital two hours away but died of an apparent heart attack.”
You can read the Washington Post obituary here for more information on Mike.
Michel duCille has been called “one of the world’s great photographers,” “one of the world’s most accomplished photographers,” “gracious and caring,” “a great mentor,” “a courageous witness and a powerful storyteller.” I am proud to have known him.
Rest in peace, Michel duCille…