About the Artist – Paul Watson

Paul Watson: A Career in War Zones

By Fiona Kyle, Artistic Apprentice

Paul Watson
Paul Watson

Paul Watson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, was born in 1959 and grew up in Ontario, Canada. In the late 1970s he attended Carleton University in Ottawa, where he studied journalism. He was upset that he had been denied the opportunity to report on the Vietnam War. It was then that the seeds for becoming a war reporter were planted. Since he was unable to afford graduate school immediately, Watson went to Malawi in Southeastern Africa to volunteer as a teacher in order to get real-world experience. A few years later, he attended Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where he finished his graduate degree in 1987.

After graduating from Columbia, Watson began at the Toronto Star as a city reporter but began branching out into the field. His first war zones were Eritrea and Angola in the early 1990s. His third war zone became the one that would put him on the map as a photojournalist. Watson headed to civil war-torn Somalia. On September 25, 1993, Somali gunmen shot down a Black Hawk helicopter in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. He went on the air for CNN and Reuters telling the world what had happened, and the Pentagon retaliated by saying, “The story has no basis in fact.” Watson had no visual proof of what was happening on the ground.

On October 4th, Watson heard of an American soldier being dragged through the streets. Another Black Hawk had been downed. He traveled to a side street where he found the crowd beating the corpse of the soldier and cheering as Watson clicked the shutter of his camera. He learned that the man who had been killed was Staff Sergeant William David Cleveland. Watson had visual proof to back up his story, and the photograph shocked the world. After its release, President Clinton announced the withdrawal of troops from Somalia by 1994. Watson was awarded the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography. The harrowing experience in Somalia haunted him as he went on to document the Rwandan genocide.

Watson moved on from the Toronto Star to work for the Los Angeles Times. He started with them as the South Asia bureau chief and later headed their Southeast Asian bureau in Jakarta, Indonesia, where he covered Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Iraq after September 11, 2001. Watson kept pursuing war zones and other dangerous areas in the Middle East, risking his safety to get important stories to the public. He returned to the Toronto Star in 2009, where he continued to cover Afghanistan as well as the Arctic-Aboriginal beat in Canada until he left early in 2015.

Watson’s best-selling memoir Where War Lives details his time as a war reporter and his struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and chronic depression. Published in 2007, it won the Drummer General’s Award and was shortlisted for the 2008 Arthur Ells Award for non-fiction writing. Watson wrote the text for Magnum Revolution: 65 Years of Fighting for Freedom, which investigates the history of revolution through photojournalism published in 2012.

Watson’s awards include: the Daniel Pearl Award from the South Asian Journalist’s Association in 2007, the Hal Boyle Award from The Overseas Press Club of America in 2006 for his reporting in Afghanistan, the Freedom of the Press Award from the U.S. National Press Club in 2000, the National Headliner Award, and the George Polk Award for his reporting from Kosovo. He won the Robert Capa Gold Medal from The Overseas Press Club of America in 1993 for his photograph of Sergeant William Cleveland. In 2000, Watson was honored by the Times Mirror as Journalist of the Year.