October 6, 2017 / 6:20 PM / a year ago

Joy and tragedy: A tale of two photos

In his home just outside of Boston in the early hours of Monday Michael Rosbash, clad in his bathrobe and pajamas, answered the door when a Reuters photographer rang the doorbell.

Michael Rosbash, a Brandeis University professor, retrieves the morning newspaper after learning he is one of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine winners, at his home in Newton, Massachusetts, U.S., October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

He invited the man, whom he’d never met, into his home and allowed him to photograph him drinking coffee in his kitchen because, for Rosbash, this was not an ordinary morning. He had just been named one of three American scientists awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work unravelling molecular mechanisms that control our internal body clocks.

Even as Reuters photographer Brian Snyder was making his overture to Rosbash, his Reuters colleague Mike Blake was working to capture another iconic image – this one related to the tragedy at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino where a lone gunman opened fire on a country music concert and killed 59 people. Both photos tell vastly different stories but both relied on the same depth of preparation that goes into what photographers call “making” a picture.

In the case of the Nobel Prize winner, the photographer’s road to Rosbash’s door - and the viral of image of the professor in his dressing gown clutching a mug of coffee that produced - involved journalists on two continents, who had spent almost a month planning Reuters’ coverage of the Nobel Prizes, which are shrouded in secrecy.

The effort is coordinated in our Stockholm bureau and an important part of it is having journalists on standby in cities such as Boston because so many winners come from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

As the news of the winners hit the Reuters wire on Monday, a senior photo editor alerted his counterparts globally on the winners’ names and their potential locations.

Snyder, who has been based in Boston for almost 30 years, was woken at 5:45 a.m. on Monday by a phone call from his editor, putting him on the hunt for Rosbash, a professor at nearby Brandeis University.

He found his address, and managing to avoid Boston’s notorious rush-hour traffic, made it to Rosbash’s home in 20 minutes. The first photographer to arrive at the scene, he found the scientist taking congratulatory phone calls.

To get access to Rosbash, Snyder simply rang the doorbell and was invited in to take his pictures of the pajama-clad prize-winner.

"There's no downside to winning the Nobel,” Snyder said. "Maybe that makes them less likely to turn you away.” 

At the same time Snyder was getting his early morning assignment, Blake got a call in the middle of the night. He was expecting it to be a Nobel Prize winner—but this assignment was grim. Blake was dispatched to Las Vegas from Southern California to cover the aftermath of the mass shooting.

Because the police had the adjacent area locked down really well, Blake decided to stay at a Hooters hotel, which had a limited view of Mandalay Bay resort and the outdoor Las Vegas Village where the Route 91 Harvest country music festival took place.

On Wednesday, ahead of the president’s visit to Las Vegas, Blake got an idea for a frame.

From his hotel room window, which faced the Mandalay Bay, he had seen planes taking off over the hotel. He decided to try to capture the president’s plane and hotel together in one photograph.

The president’s schedule was not well known at that point. The media had had an idea he would leave around 1 p.m., so the team sat and waited.

Eventually, the plane came into Blake’s viewfinder, and much lower than he expected. “I zoomed out a little to put the plane over the stage of the venue. I zoomed in as it went over a Mandalay Bay sign and then it disappeared behind the hotel. I quickly framed up the broken windows and waited for it to appear somewhere behind them,” he said. “When it did, I hit the motor drive, captured the scene and sent three images back to the news desk.

Air Force One departs Las Vegas past the broken windows on the Mandalay Bay hotel, where shooter Stephen Paddock conducted his mass shooting along the Las Vegas Strip. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Air Force One departs Las Vegas past the broken windows on the Mandalay Bay hotel, where shooter Stephen Paddock conducted his mass shooting along the Las Vegas Strip. REUTERS/Mike Blake

It took mere minutes before the photo was being used by media outlets around the world.

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