Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent and photojournalist Marcus Yam was awarded the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography on Monday for his compelling coverage of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. It is remarkable that he won journalism’s highest honor in his first year as a foreign correspondent. This Pulitzer is the culmination of all the great work Yam has produced over the last seven years at the Los Angeles Times.
When the U.S. announced that it would pull American troops out of Afghanistan, Yam believed this would not end well and he needed to be on the ground covering it from beginning to end. We, of course, agreed because we trusted him and we knew he would produce stellar work.
He arrived Aug. 14, 2021; the following day, Afghanistan fell to the Taliban within hours, much to the surprise of the world. But not for Yam, who not only suspected this might have happened but was already thinking of what would come next — the stories of the Afghan people affected by this takeover.
For the next two months, Yam courageously and relentlessly pursued a number of human interest stories even as other Western news organizations exited the country due to security issues. This was perhaps the hardest and most stressful time for me as a director of photography. I worried about his safety daily, as I’m sure many of us in the newsroom did as well. When he was roughed up by the Taliban while covering a national flag rally, several editors insisted that I get him out immediately for his own safety.
Each time I spoke to Yam about leaving, he’d always remind me this was an important story that needed to be told. He would assure me that he had two exit plans every day and that he was safe. Ultimately, after some back and forth, he would convince me to let him stay and keep reporting. I have a deep respect and admiration for him, his work ethic, courage and stoicism amid the dangers and restrictions he faced at the time. Not only is it a testament to the great photojournalist he is but how lucky we are to have him here at the L.A. Times.
Even though this award is for his photography, what was equally as impressive was his ability to navigate the unknown. Yam becomes the sixth Los Angeles Times journalist to win a Pulitzer for the photography categories. He is also the first Malaysian-born journalist to ever win a Pulitzer for photography.