Photographer shares snapshot of life within journalism field

Associated Press photographer Julio Cortez visited photography students to share tips and explain the journey of his career.

From a 10-year-old immigrant boy from Mexico to a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the Associated Press (AP), Julio Cortez has proven that anything is possible.

“This doesn’t always happen to a little Mexican kid,” Cortez said. “Winning this prize made me feel really empowered.”

Due to his undocumented status at the time, Cortez attended two community colleges over a six-year period since attending a four-year university was too expensive when he was still undocumented. He worked for the Los Angeles Daily News at age 19 before graduating from California State University, Northridge and eventually being hired as an AP photographer. On Oct. 18, he visited photography teacher Adriana Chavira’s period one and two classes to share his experiences. During his period one session with the advanced journalism students, Cortez held a workshop on portrait photography. With the Photography 1 class, Cortez talked about how he originally planned to be a reporter. However, once he saw the photos taken during  9/11, he was inspired to shift his attention to taking pictures that will go down in history. 

“Usually during a presentation, I feel tired and bored,” freshman Kaleigh Tapaoan said. “But this was completely different. It was fascinating and hearing his story was really inspiring.”

Cortez is now stationed in Baltimore, Maryland, where he takes photos of current events. Once he takes the photos, they are automatically sent to an online program used by the AP for editing before being released for writers from anywhere to use in their stories. His Pulitzer Prize-winning photo is of a man holding an upside-down American flag in front of a fire during riots in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd in 2020. Cortez explained that at times his line of work can be very dangerous, but he’s willing to do it.

“Everybody saw this picture and knew it was symbolic,” Cortez said. “Then I got the Pulitzer Prize. It’s a feeling so great. I told my kids that when you accomplish something, then you are a champion, and I was like, ‘We are champions!’”

Many of the photos Cortez takes range from serious to fun and exciting, from emergencies like fires to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection to sports like the Super Bowl. You can see the emotion of the people in his photos, which are a part of history.

“If we still have a world that we haven’t destroyed, we can still be able to look back at images taken,” Cortez said.