Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Charles Dharapak (WSC '93) Named Still Photographer of the Year

Congratulations to Charles Dharapak, a photojournalist for the Associated Press (AP), who has been named Still Photographer of the Year in the "Eyes of History" contest. Mr. Dharapak is an NYU Washington Square College graduate of 1993 in Print Journalism. In 1995, he joined the AP as a staff photographer based in Southeast Asia. He covered Cambodia's civil war and pro-democracy movement in Burma and later became the AP’s chief photographer and photo editor in Jakarta, Indonesia. In Jakarta, Mr. Dharapak covered the riots leading to the fall of Suharto, East Timor’s independence, various communal and religious conflicts, and the rise of Muslim extremism. In 2003 he transferred to AP Washington, DC, where he has covered national politics including the Bush administration, the 2004, 2008, and 2012 presidential campaigns, and currently the Obama White House. pfo_cxdcc08%20copy.jpg Mr. Dharapak's work in Gaza in 2002 was recognized by the Associaed Press Managing Editors and he has received awards for his Washington political coverage from the National Press Photographers Association's Best of Photojournalism contest and the White House News Photographers Association. Last week, we had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Dharapak about his time at NYU and his experience as a photojournalist for the Associated Press. At NYU, you studied Journalism, Economics and Chemistry. Is there a particular class or professor that you remember that has had a lasting impression on you? I was originally pre-med and in the BA-MD program (which was a non-accelerated 8 year program which had accepted you into the medical school) and had decided to major in Print Journalism. My interest in photojournalism came from taking an elective course taught by Carl Glassman, who now is the editor and publisher of the community newspaper The Tribeca Trib. It was during Fall 1992 and part of the course which left an impression on me was the discussion of how photographs of the Clinton – Bush presidential campaign were used in the mass media and how the photographs were able to communicate to the viewer. pfo_cxdcc30.jpg In 1995, two years after graduating from NYU, you became a Staff Photographer for the Associated Press in Bangkok, Thailand. At this point in your life, what made you decide to take on a career in photo journalism? I had already a keen interest in "making it" as a photojournalist and getting the job in Bangkok with AP was purely "right place, right time". I had language and local knowledge (my family is from Thailand and we went back summers while I was growing up in Staten Island) and AP was willing to take a chance on me even though I had very little professional experience. pfo_cxdcc32.jpg According to LinkedIn, you worked in South East Asia (SEA) for the first seven-and-a-half years of your career—first in Bangkok, then in Jakarta, Indonesia. Were you living in SEA all this time? Yes I did. In total I spent 10 years living in Southeast Asia after graduating from NYU. Even though I was based in Bangkok and Jakarta, I was able to travel often in the region and also outside the region. I spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2002, mostly in Gaza. After observing Thailand and Indonesia through a camera lens for over seven years, did you learn anything about their cultures that is not typically apparent to the average American tourist in SEA? When you are a journalist living in a place and covering that country's evolving history, you are getting a much more whole and continuous view of what is going on there, rather than parachuting in for a short time when the news is happening. I feel fortunate to have been in the region during a time of great transformation. Specific examples that come to mind was the Asian financial crisis, which began in Thailand and spread throughout the region. It brought on riots which led to the ouster of dictator Suharto, who had ruled Indonesia for 32 years with an iron fist, and brought about democracy and its growing pains which led to other stories such as East Timor's independence. It was a privilege to be living there during that period and to see the story through. pfo_cxdcc45.jpg What is it like to be a photographer for the AP? Does the fact that the AP provides news for many different news outlets change how you work as a photo journalist? AP's reach is very far and wide. On any given day, more than half the world gets its news from the AP. So I get a great thrill of having the responsibility for telling the story — being the eyes and ears for people who aren't able to be there and witness it for themselves. For almost a decade, you have been photographing American politics. What is it like to be so close to iconic political figures? It has been a great privilege to have this front row seat to history. It has been an interesting period of time in American politics, from the George W. Bush presidency to the historic presidential election of Barack Obama. AE2_pre_cxdcc_09blackberry.jpg This photo of President Obama dropping his Blackberry seems to bring the President down to a more relatable frame of reference—everyone who owns a cell phone is bound drop it sooner or later. Do you typically have a set image in your mind that you’re trying to convey? No. Coming to work on any given day you have to be prepared with the knowledge of what the story of the day is, who the players are, and what the larger issues are that are being dealt with. An unguarded image of a public figure usually comes from knowing your subject and being able to anticipate what is going to happen and how they are going to react. pfo_cxdcc20.jpg Has your view on any political figure ever changed after photographing them? Politicians are people too. But I always admire the amount of drive and energy they have, especially after following the President on a 10 day trip around the world, or a presidential candidate as they relentlessly campaign. So when I feel tired at the end of a long day, I know that there is someone else who is more tired than I am! Be sure to check out some of Mr. Dharapak's other photos. pfo_cxdcc17.jpg pfo_cxdcc42.jpg pfo_cxdcc19.jpg

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