Serious Steps by Paul Vathis

29.03.2015 |

Episode #9 of the course “Pulitzer prize-winning photos”

After his election into office, President John F. Kennedy faced multiple challenges in 1961. Among them was that a communist stronghold in Cuba—strong allies with Russia—was causing the United States a great deal of concern. When the military led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower approached Kennedy with a plan to invade Cuba in an effort to remove the communist powers, Kennedy signed off on the attack as long as American involvement would not be known around the world. The operation was to take place under cover of night, beginning with the landing of soldiers at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba.

The Bay of Pigs invasion was a serious moment for Kennedy and for international politics. Without American knowledge, Cuban forces had become aware of the operation and had planned a counter-attack. When the American forces landed on Cuban soil, they met with heavy resistance and suffered significant losses. President Kennedy, who was with his family at the presidential retreat known as Camp David, was joined by General Eisenhower to discuss the severity of the situation. Paul Vathis, an AP photographer based out of Philadelphia, followed the two as they walked and talked.

The photo he shot of the two men from behind discussing the future of the world and their fears was entitled “Serious Steps.” It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for photography in 1962 after its publication showed the weight and gravity of Kennedy’s presidency. Vathis continued to photograph until his death in 2002.


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