Documenting with dignity in tragedy: Remembering Michel du Cille, 1956-2014

Michel du Cille, Washington Post photojournalist and winner of three Pulitzer Prizes died of an apparent heart attack on Dec. 11 while on assignment for The Post in Liberia. He was 58.

His career, photographing human struggle across the continents, was illustrious. But he was perhaps most passionate about his last work — documenting the devastation of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Even after a mandatory 21-day quarantine that followed a previous stint in the West African country, du Cille eagerly went back. He told The Post: “I have had to check my emotions, and I use those emotions to make sure I’m telling the story in the right way, to make sure I’m using my sense of respect, my sense of dignity, to show images to the world and to do the right thing by the subjects.”

Du Cille’s photos of patients fighting Ebola — and an entire village working to care for them showed intense compassion. His pictures told powerful stories and will endure as pillars of truth.  

At The Miami Heard, du Cille was awarded a two Pulitzer prizes: one with colleague Carol Guzy for pictures of the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia in 1985, another for his searing photos documenting crack addiction in 1987. In 2007, his unflinching photos of wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Hospital helped expose derelict facilities and shameful treatment of veterans, many left to fend for themselves.

The power of du Cille’s work flowed from his ability to illuminate the dignity of people confronting tragedy. He stepped lightly but confidently into any environment he was photographing, intent on preserving the humanity of his subjects.

“I’m from the side of journalism” that says “Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable,” du Cille told The Post.

Du Cille is survived by his loving wife — fellow Post photojournalist Nikki Kahn — and two children from his first marriage, Leighton du Cille and Lesley Anne du Cille.

MaryAnne Golon and Nick Kirkpatrick contributed to this post.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported Du Cille had two sons.