Decisive Moments Define A Photojournalist’s Career

Saed Hindash turned his passion for wielding a camera into an award-winning career

by Carolyn Shea

Capturing “the decisive moment,” as the legendary French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson observed, is the Holy Grail for photojournalists seeking to transform an ordinary image into an extraordinary one.

Saed Hindash shooting photos at a sporting event

Saed Hindash ’92 is forever on the prowl for this moment, whether in the streets of Newark, where he is a photographer for New Jersey’s biggest-circulation daily newspaper, The Star-Ledger, or at a high school hockey game or a rock concert at Madison Square Garden.

His gift for exploiting his camera to transfix such moments, combined with his nose for news, has earned him two of journalism’s highest accolades:
the Pulitzer Prize and a Dart Award.

Indeed, Hindash’s instinct for recognizing a decisive moment is what catapulted him onto his career path in the first place, while he was attending Meadowdale High in Lynnwood, Wash. 

At 16, he approached the editor of the school’s newspaper about covering the fire that destroyed Everett Community College’s library building in 1987. The editor rejected the pitch, saying the blaze was outside the paper’s scope. Hindash—who had taken journalism and photography classes as a freshman and sophomore and grew up in a family that paid close attention to the news—disagreed, arguing that it was relevant and important since many of Meadowdale’s students would be going on to the community college and the loss of the library would certainly affect them. Persuaded, the editor told Hindash, “Go for it.”  

That green light turned into a pivotal point in Hindash’s life. When his first published photograph, of the smoldering wreckage of the library building, ran in the paper’s next issue, he had an epiphany. “There was my picture and there was my name,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘Wow! That’s pretty cool! I would like to do this!’”

Seeing clearly where his talent and passion intersected, Hindash became single-minded in his pursuits. He spent his remaining time at Meadowdale as the paper’s staff photographer, and afterwards, he was among those graduates who enrolled in Everett Community College because he could advance his technical training in photography there. Then, he transferred to Evergreen. 

At Evergreen, he says, “I could create my own curriculum. I got to pick what I wanted to do, set my own course the way I wanted to.” The course he set for himself pointed straight toward photojournalism and he convinced faculty member Dave Hitchens, his teacher in the Great Books program, to sponsor his senior-year individual contract, for which he interned with The Herald in Everett. “Dave was the only one who was willing to sponsor me; he saw the value in photojournalism. Others wanted me to pursue the artistic side of photography. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be a photojournalist. Dave believed in what I wanted to do. The guidance he gave me put me on the track to where I am.”

After earning his degree from Evergreen, Hindash spent a few more months at the Everett newspaper before moving to Pittsburgh, where his parents had relocated. He began freelancing for the now-defunct North Hills News Record, a suburban Pittsburgh daily, eventually got hired on staff and spent the next three years covering “the whole gamut of news: fires, accidents, shootings, sports,” he says. “It was a lot of work. I was running ragged, but it was my choice. My social life was not the best. In the beginning of my career, I was a workaholic. I wanted to grow. And the harder I worked the better pictures I made. That was where I got my first taste for what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”

That was also where he met reporter Dana DiFilippo, who became a good friend. Today, they are married; as Hindash says, “Most people in this business marry other journalists because they understand the demands and the love for the profession.” DiFilippo works for the Philadelphia Daily News; and they have two children, 10-year-old Zaki and 7-year-old Amalie.

From 1995 to 1999, Hindash worked for The Cincinnati Enquirer, and when his wife wanted to move closer to her hometown of Philadelphia, he found work as staff photographer with The Star-Ledger

In 2002, Hindash partnered with The Star-Ledger reporter Matt Reilly to investigate the tragedy of a 7-year-old boy, Viktor Matthey, who died from exposure ten months after being adopted with his younger twin brothers from a Siberian orphanage by a New Jersey couple. At the time, his adoptive parents were charged with his death. To get the full story, the pair traveled to Russia and visited one of the orphanages where Viktor and his siblings lived after being removed from their birth home because of neglect. They also met with the child’s mother, who was unaware of her son’s death until their visit. Their resulting series, published under the headline, “The Short Life of Viktor Matthey,” won that year’s Dart Award for Excellence in Reporting on Victims
of Violence.

Three years later, Hindash was part of The Star-Ledger team that won the Pulitzer Prize for its breaking news coverage of the resignation of New Jersey Governor James McGreevey.

Hindash’s photomontage of tap dancer Savion Glover.
Hindash’s photomontage of tap dancer Savion Glover. 

Hindash has seen a lot of change over the two decades he’s worked in the field, not only in the tools and technologies he uses, but also in the industry itself. 

As he watches news organizations shed jobs—his own paper is down to 14 photographers from 32 a dozen years ago—he’s branched out to video and occasionally takes on non-newspaper freelance assignments. “I’ve done weddings, family and kids’ portraits, editorial things for businesses and corporate magazines,” he says. “But first and foremost, my work is done for The Star-Ledger.” If that sounds like dedication, well, that’s because Hindash is dedicated. “This is all I ever wanted to do,” he says. “I can’t see myself doing anything else. I don’t ever dread going to work. I love it; it’s a part of my being.”

On his personal website, Hindash describes his vision, saying he “strives to capture moments worth remembering, moments that even decades later can make memories come vividly alive.” Through his skillfulness in seizing those moments, he is able to draw viewers into the diverse human stories and emotions revealed by his striking photographs.

“Each day, I pick up my camera and take pictures,” he says, “but it’s never the same thing. That’s why I love this profession. I never know what’s going to happen. It’s never boring. That’s the beautiful part of it. I’m still jazzed about it after all these years.”

Hindash captured Charlie Lee cooling off her gleeful 9-year-old neighbor, Kasheem Heath.
Hindash captured Charlie Lee cooling off her gleeful 9-year-old neighbor, Kasheem Heath.