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Taro Yamasaki

Class of 1964
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for photojournalism

After graduating from Cranbrook, Yamasaki found himself at the University of Michigan. He dropped out in the spring of his senior year and in April 1968 moved to New York City. He took a position at a Community Action Program as a documentary photographer in migrant farm worker camps in western New York State where he realized that he wanted to pursue photography more seriously.

Yamasaki founded a carpentry company but quit the business in 1977 to work as a staff photographer at the 
Detroit Free Press. He was hired by chief photographer Tony Spina and eventually worked alongside David C. Turnley. While at the Free Press, Yamasaki asked for permission to create, research and produce his own stories. The first story he conceived of on his own was a documentation of the daily lives of inmates in Jackson Prison, the largest walled prison in the world with 52 acres inside the walls[3][9] He then produced a lead story he had written, researched and photographed entirely on his own titled, "Jackson Prison: Armed and dangerous". The story was published on Sunday, December 14, 1980 as lead story of Free Press' Sunday Comment Front.[10] Yamasaki had "spent 10 days talking to the prison warden, officials, guards and inmates."[10] His writing focused on the inhumane conditions in which the inmates lived and the problems of overcrowding, violence and contraband.[10] Against the prison's rules, Yamasaki was able to convince the guards not to escort him anywhere and gained permission to travel almost everywhere inside the prison entirely on his own. According to Yamasaki, the guards allowed him to do this because they wanted him to portray the great danger of their jobs as accurately as possible. Because Yamasaki traveled around the prison without guards, he was able to gain the trust of the inmates who confided things to him they otherwise would not have, in many cases, because they wanted him to portray the incredible danger and inhumanity of their lives as honestly as possible. Despite the danger he faced from the inmates without the protection of prison guards, Yamasaki was able to produce an in-depth investigative report the Detroit Free Press nominated Yamasaki for the Pulitzer Prize. Subsequently, Yamasaki won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for the photographs he had taken inside Jackson Prison.