ALEX COHEN, host:
The national economic down turn is a story photographer Anthony Suau spent most of last year covering. This week, Suau took home the World Press Photo's top prize, photo of the year. His award-winning shot was of a sheriff, gun drawn, in a home that looks like it had been hit by a hurricane. You can see the image on our Web site, nor.org/daytoday. Anthony Suau told me the photo was taken in a foreclosed home on Cleveland.
Mr. ANTHONY SUAU (Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photojournalist): Vandals had ransacked the home, and so, there was debris spewed across the floors and walls. And I entered the house with a detective. Because the residents were not home, he has to clear the house to make sure that it's safe for the movers who are going to come in and take out what is remaining in the home. So, he moves around from room to room with his gun drawn, because you never know what dangers can lurk in one room to the next. And so, every time we went into the house, initially, it was frightening. I think that the photograph is a little bit shocking to people because...
COHEN: Well, it looks like it's a war zone, you know? There's this moment where, if you don't know that context...
Mr. SUAU: Right.
COHEN: You look at it and think that it might be, you know, Iraq, maybe, and then all of the sudden, it clicks in and you realize this is a financial story.
Mr. SUAU: Absolutely. And I think that initially, it's hard for people to understand what's going on, and now that it won the World Press and then it's out there and you see this picture, there's an intrigue to find out what's going on behind, and what you find is many layers that go on behind the mortgage crisis, and then it goes to the people who are losing the homes, the banks, Wall Street and back to Washington. I mean, it's the whole gamut that comes together at that moment.
COHEN: What's been your approach to covering the financial story as a visual story?
Mr. SUAU: It's very difficult. I've photographed many wars in the past, but the financial crisis was very difficult because there was no obvious visual solutions. When I went to Cleveland, it was immediately clear to me that the situation was severe and, certainly, highly visual and full of human drama on the most profound level.
COHEN: I'd like to ask about one of those photos in Cleveland. It features a family. There's an African-American couple and their two daughters. You note in the caption that they paid the rent on time, but their landlord didn't meet his loan obligation, so the building was repossessed. Can you describe what was happening at that moment when you took this photograph?
Mr. SUAU: Yes. I walked into a Catholic charity organization, and the family was there. They were thrown out the day prior to that; all their belongings were dumped on the street. They spent a night on a bus, and they ended up at this Catholic charity because the bus driver let them get on the bus for free. They were very upset, because at that point, they were told that they were going to be separated and put into different shelters. It was heartbreaking.
COHEN: Anthony, at that moment, I would imagine it is a very intense and personal time for this family. How do you approach that situation?
Mr. SUAU: So, I approached him and I said, listen, I'm with Time Magazine, and we're doing a story on the crisis, and I would like to follow you to see what happens to you in this process over the next few days and get your story so that we can get it out there and maybe let people know and understand the situation. And of course, he was extremely tired. He was hungry. He was with his children. But he agreed, he said yeah. And the next day, I was going to go to photograph in an employment office and I said, why don't you come with me? He didn't have a job at the time. I said, why don't you come with me? So, when I arrived the next morning on the street corner where we were to meet, he had been waiting for half hour. He was worried I wasn't going to come. We went into the employment office, and by the time we left an hour later, he had a job. So, you know, while I was there, I was able to help him as much as I could, and I don't know what happened to them, but I would love to know.
COHEN: Anthony, you mentioned that you have covered wars. I imagine that you've probably seen some pretty terrible things in your lifetime. But it sounds almost as if maybe this story is affecting you in a different way.
Mr. SUAU: It's my home, I'm an American, and yeah, that makes it a little different.
COHEN: A bittersweet award, perhaps, this one.
Mr. SUAU: Indeed.
COHEN: Anthony Suau won the World Press Photo of the Year contest this week for his image of foreclosure in Cleveland. It originally appeared in Time Magazine. Anthony, thank you.
Mr. SUAU: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.