UB alumnus Marcus Yam awarded Pulitzer Prize in breaking news photography

Marcus Yam kneeling inside a cargo plan with a camera in his hand.

Marcus Yam was a photographer for UB's student newspaper, The Spectrum. Courtesy of Marcus Yam

Yam, BS ’06, was honored for his “raw, urgent images” of U.S. departure from Kabul last summer

Release Date: May 10, 2022

“Marcus was a great, unique student.I saw him in class one day with a camera around his neck and asked him about it. Photography was clearly a passion he made a lot of time for, which told me he was disciplined—most engineering students are overwhelmed by just their homework alone. ”
Kemper E. Lewis, dean
University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo alumnus and Los Angeles Times roving foreign correspondent and photojournalist Marcus Yam has won the Pulitzer Prize — his third — for breaking news photography. The Pulitzer Prize winners were announced earlier this week, honoring the best in U.S. journalism.

Yam, BS ’06, who shared the award for breaking news photography with four photographers from Getty Images, was honored for his “raw and urgent images of the U.S. departure from Afghanistan that capture the human cost of the historic change in the country.”

Los Angeles Times story reporting on Yam’s Pulitzer calls Yam a “journalist with a warrior’s courage and a poet’s heart.”

Yam delivered pictures of unspeakable tragedy and abiding emotion despite a manhandling by one of the insurgents, the near-constant menace of other fighters and the abundant technical hurdles of transmitting images out of a war zone, the story notes.

In a recent interview with At Buffalo, UB’s alumni magazine, Yam recalled his terrifying encounter with a Taliban fighter while documenting the Afghanistan crisis. “If he points his gun at me, I’m dead,” he said.

Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner and executive chairman of The Los Angeles Times, told newspaper staffers in a videoconference how proud and scared he was last summer as he followed Yam’s harrowing coverage in Afghanistan.

“You were out there doing amazing things,” Soon-Shiong said. “What you’ve done, with the photography and the images, was so important for the world. The word ‘genocide’ really needs to be said. And your pictorial really brings it home. It’s really important.”

Times’ Executive Editor Kevin Merida also praised Yam, saying, “We are proud of Marcus Yam for the raw power and humanity of his photojournalism in Afghanistan.”

Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Yam came to UB to study aerospace engineering and left besotted by photojournalism. Yam, who worked on the staff of the UB student newspaper The Spectrum, realized early on in his internship with The Buffalo News during his senior year that photography was his true calling. He eventually landed stints with The Associated Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Seattle Times before joining the LA Times.

He spoke previously about how his engineering background plays a role in his approach to photojournalism. “It really informs my work,” he said. “I take a very analytical and technical approach to everything that I shoot.”

“Marcus was a great, unique student,” Kemper Lewis, dean of UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, told At Buffalo. “I saw him in class one day with a camera around his neck and asked him about it. Photography was clearly a passion he made a lot of time for, which told me he was disciplined — most engineering students are overwhelmed by just their homework alone.”

Yam was awarded a 2015 Pulitzer Prize for his role in The Seattle Times’ coverage of a horrific mudslide that killed 43 people in rural Washington. He was also part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning breaking news team that covered the San Bernardino, California, terrorist attacks in 2015 for the LA Times.

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