One split second captured in a photograph defined the dramatic rescue of Patricia Ralph-Neely below Des Moines’ Center Street Dam on June 30, 2009. The photo became iconic and won the Pulitzer Prize for then-Register photographer Mary Chind Willie.
But Willie wasn’t the only Des Moines Register photographer out taking pictures that day. Then-Register photographer Andrea Melendez took photos of the rescue as well, but only Willie’s photo won the Pulitzer.
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“As a photographer there are so many instances where you do work and you put out a good effort and for whatever reason, beyond your control, it may not run or it may not be published in the proper way,” said Willie, of the recognition her photo received instead of Melendez’s.
“I was excited that my photo was used on the front page. But my heart was going out to her because I know how many times we’ve had conversations about ‘Oh, they used another person’s photo’ or ‘Oh, it’s from the Associated Press.’ So I really know what that’s like.”
But Melendez, a good friend of Willie’s, said her friend deserved the prize.
“She’s a great photographer. She’s one of my best friend. And she deserves it,” Melendez said.