Michel du Cille, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner whose compassionate pictures captured the human cost of war, natural disasters, disease and broken government programs, died Thursday in Liberia while covering the Ebola epidemic for the Washington Post. He was 58.
Du Cille collapsed while walking back from a village where he had been taking photos. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, said his wife, Post photographer Nikki Kahn. The cause appears to have been a heart attack, she said.
The photojournalist had recently returned to Liberia after a four-week break. One of his most powerful pictures was of an 11-year-old girl with tears streaming down her face who lost both parents to the disease ravaging much of West Africa.
"I've had my moments when I had to check my emotions," du Cille said recently in filmed comments he made at a conference in Ethiopia. "But I use those emotions to make sure that 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."
Getty Images staff photographer Chip Somodevilla, who is based in the Washington, D.C., area, said what made du Cille's pictures stand out was his ability to empathize with his subjects.
"The reason his photographs had such an appeal for photographers and non-photographers, alike," Somodevilla said, "was the immediate and apparent compassion for his subjects. He felt it was his job to make sure that when you saw his photos, you knew exactly what the subjects were feeling, whether desperate, sad or joyful."
Du Cille's first Pulitzer came in 1986 at the Miami Herald. It was for news photos taken of devastation in the wake of a volcano eruption in Colombia.
In 1988, while still at the Herald, he won his second Pulitzer for depicting devastation of a different kind — the effect that the crack cocaine epidemic had on a low-income housing project.
Du Cille visited the project for weeks without a camera. "I want them to get to know me as a person," he once said, according to an essay on Time magazine's website. "First comes trust, then the work."
His third Pulitzer, shared with a team at the Post in 2008, was for an investigative project that exposed the inadequate care wounded veterans were receiving at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Du Cille, who sometimes sneaked his camera into the facility in a gym bag, showed not only the frustration of long-suffering patients, but also the grimy living conditions they had to endure.
Michelangelo Everard du Cille was born on Jan. 24, 1956, in Kingston, Jamaica. The family moved to the U.S., where du Cille began taking pictures for the newspaper in Gainesville, Ga., while he was still in high school.
He earned a bachelor's degree at Indiana University and a master's at Ohio University, both in journalism. He worked first as an intern and then a staff photographer at the Herald before joining the Post in 1988.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Leighton; a daughter, Lesley Anne; and brothers Frank, Donovan, Houston and Oliver. A previous marriage ended in divorce.
Although du Cille held editing positions at the Post, Kahn said he most loved to be in the field shooting pictures.
"This last project in Liberia touched him so deeply," she said. "He felt it was almost his mission to go do it."