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This one photo shows why Michel du Cille was an incredible photojournalist

 Lansana Sesay gets help with a cigarette from his grandson, Joseph at a special Amputee camp on Nov. 3, 1999 in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Rebels dragged him outside his house and amputated both arms during Sierra Leone's civil war.
Lansana Sesay gets help with a cigarette from his grandson, Joseph at a special Amputee camp on Nov. 3, 1999 in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Rebels dragged him outside his house and amputated both arms during Sierra Leone's civil war.
(Michel du Cille/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Michel du Cille passed away Thursday of an apparent heart attack while covering the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.

There will doubtless be many tributes to du Cille published. Most will probably focus on his coverage of the Miami crack epidemic, which earned him a Pulitzer, or his more recent coverage of the Ebola crisis, which earned him a ban from Syracuse University's administrators, who barred him from campus out of absurd paranoia that he might be carrying the disease.

But for me, the best example of du Cille's skill is the image above, of a survivor of Sierra Leone's civil war and his grandson.

The photograph shows Lansana Sesay, who lost both arms in a rebel attack during Sierra Leone's civil war, smoking a cigarette held by his young grandson, Joseph.

That image manages to convey a complete story in a single frame. It's a story about the devastation of Sierra Leone's brutal civil war, in which rebels terrorized civilians by amputating their limbs, but it is also a human story about one family. The way that Joseph holds the cigarette to his grandfather's lips silently conveys Sesay's loss of independence, and the responsibility that must have burdened his grandson at a young age. But because Joseph is helping Sesay smoke a cigarette, the image is not a humiliating one, as it so easily could have been. Smoking is a pleasure, something you do for yourself to find joy or comfort. That tells the story of Sesay's agency, as well as his terrible loss.

The world is full of more cameras than ever before, but that kind of visual storytelling remains a rare and valuable skill. Du Cille will be missed.

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