Nov., 1987: John Kaplan, a former photographer at Block Newspapers, would go on to win an Robert F. Kennedy Award for photojournalism. He would be awarded a $15,000 grant from Nikon to photograph 21-year-olds across the country. The resulting series, “21: Age 21 in America,” would appear in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Toledo Blade and Monterey Herald over seven stories in 1991. And that project would garner him a 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. But those accolades began with what was supposed to be a typical news story.
“It was a routine assignment,” he said recently of “Rodney’s Crime,” which first appeared in the Pittsburgh Press Sunday Magazine in 1988.
He was covering the case of Rodney Woodson, a 21-year-old murder suspect and father who turned himself in for a Hill District shooting. Mr. Woodson had no criminal background, and while photographing him, Mr. Kaplan was struck by “the fear in his eyes, of the legal system he’d never encountered before” and “the pain and anguish on his mother’s face.”
His goal was not to defend Rodney Woodson, but rather to humanize him. Mr. Kaplan reflected on his own dumb luck, having grown up in a middle-class suburban home, wondering whether he would have turned out differently had he been born in Mr. Woodson’s circumstances. “In truth, I felt a bit guilty,” said Mr. Kaplan.
The caption on the photograph above read: “The day before he would be sentenced to a mandatory five years in prison for voluntary manslaughter, Woodson concludes a visit with his son, DeAndre, 2, as the boy’s mother, Dana, waits.”