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After 27 Years, Photographer Finally Collects Top Prize for Iconic Shot



Often, the writing and photography that win Pulitzer Prizes require heroic efforts on the part of journalists.

For one recipient this year, the process of receiving the award also took an enormous effort. In 1979, an Iranian photographer stood near executioners as they shot Kurdish prisoners - some of them blindfolded - in Sanandaj, the capital of the Kurdistan province.

One of the pictures he took for an Iranian newspaper was picked up by the wire service United Press International and published around the world. To protect the photographer, his name was never printed.

But the image proved so compelling that it was awarded the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography. It was the first - and still the only - time that the highest honor in print journalism had been awarded to an anonymous winner.

That was 27 years ago. In 2002, the image and the word ''anonymous'' for the photo credit caught the eye of Joshua Prager, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, while he perused a book of historic photographs. After three years of reporting and several false leads, Prager found the actual photographer.

Prager said he spent five days with Jahangir Razmi in Tehran before he was finally shown the original contact sheet. After decades of keeping silent, Razmi allowed his name to appear in a December 2006 article written for The Journal. That article prompted the Pulitzer Prize board to seek out Razmi to award him the long-overdue prize in person.

The committee authenticated the background and concluded that Razmi was the photographer and also considered other factors, including the current political situation in Iran.

''We concluded that more publicity would be more protection,'' said Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzers.

Last Monday, Razmi appeared in person to accept the Pulitzer medal at a ceremony at Columbia University. But the route by which he arrived in New York - and the circumstances under which he was able to take home the $10,000 prize - was tortuous.

Gissler said that he and his staff faced political hurdles: the United States does not have diplomatic ties to Iran, so Razmi had to travel to the American consulate in Dubai to obtain a visa.

Then there were the financial complications. After some discussion with Columbia University officials on how to pay him, Gissler helped Razmi cash the $10,000 prize check at a local bank.

In a poignant surprise, the mother and sister of two of the Iranians in the execution picture attended a dinner the night before the Pulitzer ceremony and met Razmi for the first time.

''I looked at him, and I couldn't control myself,'' said the sister, Roya Nahid, now 51 and a resident of Mission Viejo, California. ''He was the last person to see my brother.''

In an interview, Razmi said through an interpreter that he had left the news business and now spends most of his time in Tehran taking portrait shots.

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