SCOTT SIMON, Host:
For over 25 years, the winner of the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for photography has been known simply as an unnamed photographer of United Press International. Joshua Prager of the Wall Street Journal describes the photo in today's Journal as two parallel lines of a 11 men formed on a field of dry dirt in Sanandaj, Iran.
One group wore blindfolds, the other held rifles. You can take a look at this photograph for yourself on our website at NPR.org. The image was considered the first harsh light to be focused and how the Iranian revolution dealt with dissidents.
Many people have claimed over the years to have taken that photo. Mr. Prager found the man who did and profiles him in the weekend's paper. He joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
JOSHUA PRAGER: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: How did you find him?
BRAGER: Well, I was speaking to an old AP photographer who put me through to an old UPI photographer who had run the bureau in Brussels at the time of the revolution, and from there I was able to trace back who had sent the picture from Tehran to Brussels to the rest of the world. So it was really a matter of working backwards, following the picture from the United States through Brussels and back to Tehran.
SIMON: And who took the photo?
PRAGER: His name is Jahangir Razmi. He was for many years a photographer at Ettelaat, which was the second to largest newspaper in Iran when he took the picture in 1979.
SIMON: How can you be sure it's him?
PRAGER: First of all, he has the contact sheet squirreled away. He kept it hidden all of these years until I met up with him last summer in his Tehran apartment. More importantly, everyone, from the reporter who was with him at the execution to his editor to the other people who have even claimed credit for the photo over the years, they've all confirmed for me that he was in fact the man who took the picture.
SIMON: And I must say, when you take a look at the picture, one of the things you - things that immediately arrests your attention is the photographer looks like he in this case had to be pretty close to that execution.
PRAGER: Yeah. He was just behind the soldier farthest right. And it was no accident that he found himself there. He was partnered with a man named Halil Barami(ph), who was a veteran reporter at Ettelaat. The judge allowed not only Barami to be there when this sentence was carried out, but also his sidekick, Jahangir Razmi, the photographer.
And Mr. Razmi walked all about the men before the execution, both around the firing squad and around the line of the prisoners who were about to be executed, taking pictures. And he then situated himself in perfect position to take this harrowing photograph.
SIMON: At the time it was taken, Iran had the semblance of a free and even competitive press at that point. But this picture occasioned some changes, didn't it.
PRAGER: That's right. The Iranian press had sort of struggled for their freedom, even under the Shah, actually. But they didn't fear for their lives. Khomeini, when he came to power, one of the things he really did was crack down on the press, and his censorship had already started when they saw this photograph run on the front page of Ettelaat. And then the next day, all around the world, where it had been transmitted by the UPI newswire, when he saw the sort of outrage of the world and what had happened back in Iran, people tacking this photo all over the city, he decided that this was not OK and simply appropriated the newspaper. And that vice grip of censorship on the country is there to this day.
SIMON: So is he - was he happy to be discovered and credited? Is he worried now that being outed, if you please, in the Wall Street Journal is going to put him in danger?
PRAGER: Part of him was desperate to tell and part of him was desperate not to tell. And in this case, Jahangir Razmi, he was worried, obviously, for his life, but he also wanted to have credit for this special moment, and he said without this picture I wouldn't be anything. And so when I approached him, he basically had been emboldened I think by time and he said, you know what, I will tell you my story.
SIMON: Are you going to check back with him in a week?
PRAGER: I'll be checking back with him tomorrow and the next day and the next day. I want to make sure that nothing happens.
SIMON: Joshua Prager, senior special writer for the Wall Street Journal. Thanks so much.
PRAGER: Thanks so much for having me.
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