Fire at Marlborough Street (1975)

Fire at Marlborough Street. Photograph by Stanley J. Forman.

Did your mouth just hang open after seeing that picture? Mine did, and I stayed in awe for a pretty long time. I don’t know, but maybe a photojournalist lives his or her life to capture that ‘perfect moment’ on camera, and once he or she does that, it’s like his or her life just got complete! The amount of slogging over years to get that one great picture; it’s the dream of every photojournalist and Stanley J. Forman got lucky on July 22, 1975.

On this day a fire had erupted at the Marlborough Street in Boston, Massachusetts. Forman, who was the photojournalist on duty for Boston Herald, was covering it. As Forman remembers it, he saw fire fighters running around to get the fire in control and save as many people as they could, and those falling girls were among those few. The woman and the girl were standing near the fire escape and were shouting for help. Before help could reach them, the fire escape had collapsed, bringing both the mother and child down. The mother passed away upon impact, only the girl survived.

Forman had not wasted a single second to capture that moment in his camera. This bagged him the Pulitzer Prize for this photograph in 1976. This photograph had a great impact and it forced Boston and other states to impose tougher fire safety regulations.

Now that the facts are out of the way, let’s look at the picture again. Even if I didn’t know those details, the picture spoke a lot. That aghast look on the child’s face, the mere fact that they are falling is like heart wrenching! Not only had Forman successfully captured the moment, the elements in the picture i.e the free escape, ladder, that random plant pot, the prominent smoke around them, the sharp focus on the lady and the child; all act together to tell the viewer what really is happening in that picture. Everything link up, and just one picture was sufficient to say it all.

You would also question yourself; how did Forman have the heart to even click a picture like that, just when a person was about to die? No he couldn’t bear it. He clicked that picture and had turned his face before the impact. He even swore to his boss if that picture didn’t come out right, he was going to quit his job and life. He was equally traumatized by this, but with this we get to understand the hardships, turmoil, the ethical decisions a photojournalist faces day in day out. It is truly commendable how they still manage to go on even after capturing the worst possible moments which might even question their sanity. So kudos to all of them!

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