Stories Through a Lens

Photojournalist Eric Gay wins Pulitzer Prize for riveting work.
Written by: 
Jessica DeLeón
Photography by: 
Eric Gay
Eric Gay
Eric Gay ('90)

One morning in early May, Eric Gay ('90) received a phone call from one of his editors at the Associated Press with some good news.

Gay was part of the photography team that won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography.

But the awards -- the most prestigious in journalism -- wouldn't be officially announced until that afternoon.

"I was pretty excited, but it was still crazy because you can't tell anybody," he says. "So, there's a few hours that's pretty antsy."

But it was real. Gay's team received the honor for their photography depicting migrants crossing the U.S. border, making the trek from Colombia to the U.S. One of Gay's photos shows a mother pushing her young child under a razor-wire fence -- an example of how he believes photojournalism can be a powerful way to tell someone's story.

"We need fact-based journalism. We need to be able to show photos are true and actual and not manipulated in any way."

Taking the Shot
Migrants who crossed into the U.S. from Mexico pass under concertina wire
Migrants who crossed into the U.S. from Mexico pass under concertina wire along the Rio Grande, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Gay hadn't even known the team was nominated. In fact, he doesn't submit his work for competitions.

"To tell you the truth, I'm not a big contest person," he says. "I don't like having that in my head when I'm shooting. I want to do it to help tell the story."

Gay is based in San Antonio, and he covers everything from the weather to sports. He often travels to the U.S.-Mexican border, the site of an intense political debate as migrants from Central America make the arduous journey in hope of entering the U.S.

"I'm just trying to show that crossroads of desperation and human resiliency. It's an amazing trip that they make. And it's so dangerous. Then they get to what they think is their final destination and they're met with concertina wire -- and law enforcement people trying to turn them back. It's a hard story to watch and cover."

Gay says he looks at the situation as both a photographer and a human.

"When you're shooting, you're thinking about your composition and the image and lighting, but when you look at these people and you see their faces, you do have compassion. Whatever your politics, or whatever your beliefs, you know you sit there and think no mother should have to pass their child through razor wire, for whatever reason. It's just unfortunate."

Changes Through the Years
A woman carries her child after she and other migrants
A woman carries her child after she and other migrants crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico head to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Gay has seen many changes in his more than three-decade career, beginning when he was shooting for the North Texas Daily, then local papers, before landing at the AP.

"It's been an interesting time for photojournalism because when I started it was film. A lot of it was black-and-white. And then you had color negatives and color slides and then transitioning from darkrooms to machines where you could transmit from negatives to digital photography -- which almost set us back 30 years. But then the quality of digital cameras has caught back up to the quality of film. It's been a big change."

He always enjoyed developing pictures in the darkroom, even though he had to work in bathrooms and broom closets. Now the images come up instantaneously, such as when he edited photos from the recent Dallas Mavericks playoff games.

Now the work has resulted in journalism's greatest honor.

"It was very humbling," he says. "When you think of the work you've done, it validates what you've been doing for so many years."

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