The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning entry for the year 2000, “Kosovo Refugees” by Carol Guzy, was among the strikingly emotional photographs mounted in the Newseum in Washington, DC. As I studied the picture and gazed into the child’s eyes, I understood why this had won the Pulitzer. The remarkable use of visual elements helped to portray the message and emotional content behind the photograph, and allowed the viewer to connect with the little boy struggling between the fence.
As I reflected and researched the picture further I learned that two year old boy, named Agim Shala, was passed through this barbed wire fence at a camp run by United Arab Emirates in Kukes, Albania. The open arms that reached for him were that of his grandparents, members of the Shala family who reunited at the camp after escaping from Kosovo. Driven out Kosovo by the Serb aggression, tensions with Yugoslavia and the Serbs forced these refugees into small communities, with intensely strengthened relationships from the devastation and fear among them.
Carol Guzy captures this little boy’s fear, which must resonate with any viewer of the photograph, through several visual elements that convey the message behind it. Her technical use of color, line, and focal point draw and direct the viewer’s eye, while pulling through the frantic environment of the picture.
Her use of color in the photograph, clearly displays the child as the frontal image, as the blue of the child’s clothing contrasts with the gray colors of the clothing, and dull brown terrain behind him. The blue sky above him is also used in the framing of the shot, as it represents the hope and freedom of the Kosovo refugees as they reunite.
Secondly, the attention is drawn to the child and down the frame by the lines of the barbed wire surrounding him, and the hands and faces grasping for him. The lines of the dangerous fencing direct the viewer to the child’s fearful face, as he is passed back and forth through the wire, and to the faces of the family still trapped on the other side.
Furthermore, Guzy deliberately breaks the rule of thirds to frame the child as the main focal point, placing his position in the center of the frame. All three of these elements draw the viewer’s eye to the child and deliver the underlying message of conflict and desperation, as the fence symbolizes the struggle and entrapment of the Albanians.
Guzy’s photograph is certainly effective in evoking emotion, and capturing this moment in history. Its memory will undoubtedly be remembered as a Pulitzer Prize Winner.