Riedel wins AP prize for Joplin tornado photos

Romenesko Misc.
Charlie Riedel was finishing his work from a 10-inning afternoon Royals game on Sunday when he got news about the tornado. “By the time Riedel made it to Joplin and began shooting, it was after dark. But with available light such as headlights or a flash of lightning, he captured a series of dramatic and eerie images that showed the tornadoes’ horrors in an entirely different perspective,” writes AP senior managing editor Mike Oreskes. “For his resourcefulness in scrounging resources of all types — from shooters to the light of the lightning to usable transmission signals — and the compelling photo coverage that resulted, Riedel wins this week’s $500 prize.” || See Riedel’s work on his Facebook page.

AP senior managing editor Mike Oreskes’ memo to staff

Colleagues,

Start with the skills and talent to capture scenes, in challenging circumstances, that are both devastating and almost mystical. Add to that the deep knowledge of a territory, and the smarts to quickly dispatch the people best able to help in a crisis. Know how to approach, talk with — and photograph — the people reeling from a natural disaster. And add the persistence to find a way to file when nature has other ideas.

The result: A series of stunning and memorable images, delivered on deadline, capturing the destruction wrought by the nation’s worst tornado in 60 years. Images that captured a moment and dominated coverage.

Kansas City photographer Charlie Riedel was sending his final transmission from a 10-inning afternoon Royals game Sunday when his phone started ringing: A tornado had devastated the town of Joplin, Mo., some 150 miles away. In addition to editors in the office, one of the callers was freelancer Mark Schiefelbein in Springfield, Mo., 75 miles from Joplin.

Riedel quickly got Schiefelbein on the road, instructing him to head to the regional hospital to capture the extensive damage there. Then he hopped in his car and started driving himself, while simultaneously calling freelancer Mike Gullet, who lives in Joplin.

As Riedel zoomed down the highway, Schiefelbein and Gullet honed in on the devastation: The hospital, with its windows blown out. A destroyed helicopter in the parking lot. Entire neighborhoods flattened. Workers sifting through the wreckage of a home.

Filing the images proved almost as challenging as shooting them, but the two persisted until they found slow but workable signals and Wi-Fi to file in time to meet front page deadlines, including those of The New York Times.

Their photos conveyed not only the first look of the destruction but also some key details that AP writers used to complete the story while the first reporters were still en route to the scene.

By the time Riedel made it to Joplin and began shooting, it was after dark. But with available light such as headlights or a flash of lightning, he captured a series of dramatic and eerie images that made showed the tornadoes’ horrors in an entirely different perspective.

Riedel is no stranger to calamity. But that has not made him jaded, as became clear in a blog piece for the AP in which he discussed how he interacts with victims in these circumstances:

“In all the years that I have covered disasters, from fires to hurricanes to tornados to the oil spill, I don’t think I have ever run into anyone who doesn’t feel a little bit happy that someone is taking an interest in their life and story. A lot of the time I will approach someone who is sorting through what is left of their house, and they are very talkative, very appreciative of my taking an interest in them. Part of that may come from the fact that a victim may feel like an insignificant speck amongst a huge disaster — and this disaster is immense. So when someone takes an interest in them, they happily respond.”

For his resourcefulness in scrounging resources of all types — from shooters to the light of the lightning to usable transmission signals — and the compelling photo coverage that resulted, Riedel wins this week’s $500 prize.

[Here is a] slideshow with images from Riedel, Schiefelbein and Gullet as well as some members.

Mike Oreskes
Senior Managing Editor

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