AP wins 2 Pulitzers for photos of pandemic pain, US unrest

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Associated Press

Agustina Caamero, 81, hugs and kisses her husband Pascual Prez, 84, through a plastic film screen to avoid contracting the coronavirus at a nursing home in Barcelona, Spain, June 22, 2020. Even when it comes wrapped in plastic, a hug can convey tenderness and relief, love and devotion. The fear that gripped Agustina Caamero during the 102 days she and her 84-year-old husband spent physically separated during Spain's coronavirus outbreak dissolved the moment the couple embraced through a screen of plastic film. The image was part of a series by Associated Press photographer Emilio Morenatti that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Associated Press photographers awarded the Pulitzer Prize on Friday had dodged tear gas to capture protests against racial injustice and patiently built trust with elderly people to empathetically document the toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

AP’s chief photographer in Spain, Emilio Morenatti, won the feature photography prize. Work by 10 AP photographers won the breaking news prize.

“The outstanding work of the AP photography staff in covering racial justice protests and Emilio Morenatti’s compassionate, yearlong look at the impact of COVID-19 on the elderly in Spain are two shining examples of what photojournalists strive to do everywhere: use light and shadow to bring knowledge and understanding to all corners of the globe,” said J. David Ake, AP assistant managing editor and director of photography.

Traveling by scooter around Barcelona, Morenatti captured images of an older couple hugging and kissing through a plastic sheet, mortuary workers in hazmat gear removing bodies and of people enduring the crisis in isolation.

Morenatti separated himself from his family for months to avoid the risk of exposure as he documented the toll of COVID-19 on the elderly. He credited half the award to his wife, who took care of their children, and the other half to his colleagues.

“I never thought that I could win the Pulitzer, actually, but much less than I could win at using my electric scooter around a few dozen kilometers from my house in Barcelona,” he said.

Morenatti is a veteran photographer with wide experience in war zones. He was embedded with the U.S. military in southern Afghanistan in August 2009 when the vehicle he was in was hit by a roadside bomb. His left leg was amputated below the knee.

The AP photographers who won in the breaking news category captured the drama and raw emotion of protests that roiled U.S. cities after the May 2020 death of George Floyd, a Black man murdered by a Minneapolis police officer.