Paul Vathis Memorial Photography Portfolio Award

Formerly known as the Distinguished Visual Awards, this award honors the late Pulitzer-Prize winning AP photographer from Pennsylvania. The award recognizes one photographer, across all circulation divisions, whose portfolio entry of published spot news, feature and sports photography shows the strong journalistic instinct, all-purpose skills and dedication that were the hallmarks of Paul Vathis’ 56-year career with the AP.

Entries are to consist of five photographs with at least one spot news photo, one feature photo and one sports photo. Work that has been entered in any other category, including those not listed in entry categories, is acceptable. The contest is open to individual photographers only – no team entries.

This is a specialty category within the Keystone Media Awards. Winner of this special award receives a personalized plaque and a cash award.

Congratulations to the 2023 Paul Vathis Memorial Photography Portfolio Award winner, Sean Simmers of PennLive/The Patriot-News, Harrisburg.

Past Distinguished Visual Winners

Paul Vathis: A career dedicated to photojournalism

Paul Vathis was an Associated Press photographer for 56 years who built a national reputation for his skill with a lens, his natural instinct for news and his boundless energy.

He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1962 for his pensive picture of President John F. Kennedy and former President Dwight Eisenhower walking together at Camp David following the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. (shown to the right)

He spent most of his career in the AP bureau in Harrisburg. At the time of his death in December 2002, he was preparing to cover the inauguration of Ed Rendell as Pennsylvania’s 45th governor. He was 77.

“Political photojournalism is all about the moment,” said J. David Ake, AP assistant chief of bureau/photos in Washington, as Vathis’s most famous photo was added to an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. “Composition helps, lighting helps, focus helps, but if you don’t have the moment, you don’t have the picture. Paul had the moment.”

Paul provided the only newspaper photos of Wilt Chamberlain’s history-making 100-point basketball game in Hershey in 1962. He had gone to the game as a spectator, taking his son along as a 10th birthday present.

Paul also shot the 1987 news conference suicide of former Pennsylvania state treasurer R. Budd Dwyer after he was convicted of taking a bribe. In 1979, he helped cover the nation’s worst nuclear power accident when the Three Mile Island plant experienced a partial meltdown.

He regularly staffed Penn State’s home football games and had covered the Little League World Series in Williamsport since 1954.

A World War II Marine combat veteran, his introduction to photography consisted of sitting in the rear gunner’s seat of a dive bomber and shooting pictures of damage that bombs inflicted on South Pacific island caves where Japanese soldiers were hiding. Paul began his AP career in Philadelphia after the war, in 1946.

The late Linda Stowell, an AP regional vice president and Pennsylvania bureau chief at the time of Paul’s death in 2002, recalled that he had recently been asked to cover a national story unfolding in York on a weekend.

Editors learned later that he left his own birthday party to handle the assignment. He shrugged off the inconvenience, saying, “It’s not the first time. It’s the business.”

“Paul Vathis represented the best of journalism and the AP – he was fast, accurate and a leader in news,” Stowell said.


Questions?  Email the PNA Foundation or phone 717-703-3003.

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