updated 02/29/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 02/29/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST
"Taro is a gentle and honest man," says Picture Editor Mary Carroll Marden, who chose Yamasaki for the Nicaraguan assignment because of his sensitivity. "He would never take a cruel or mean picture." His knack for putting people at ease has been evident in assignments ranging from a story about Cybill Shepherd and Don Johnson (June 17, 1985) to a memorable article by Senior Writer Ron Arias about poor children who succeed despite daunting obstacles (Oct. 26, 1987). Says Arias, who again teamed with Yamasaki for this week's story: "I love working with Taro. When we hit the streets, we think alike."
A native of Detroit, Yamasaki inherited an artistic sensibility from his late father, Minoru, the renowned architect who designed the World Trade Center in New York. After dropping out of the journalism program at the University of Michigan in 1968, Taro worked as an assistant kindergarten teacher, a cab-driver and a carpenter while struggling to launch a career as a photographer. A project photographing migrant workers confirmed for Yamasaki that photojournalism was his calling, and in 1977 he landed a job at the Detroit Free Press. Four years later he won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of photographs of inmates at the State Prison of Southern Michigan in Jackson, the nation's largest walled penitentiary. "Sometimes I went inside without protection by the guards so the prisoners could be more open with me," Yamasaki says.
Now a busy free-lance photographer, Yamasaki lives outside Detroit with his second wife, Susan. As the father of three children—daughter Shantih, 16, and sons Seth, 8, and Takei, 6—he felt a special responsibility to bring home honest pictures of the children whose lives have been shattered by the war in Nicaragua. "As we drove away from Vélez Paiz hospital, my tears were streaming," Yamasaki says. "Those children are so innocent. They never pointed a gun at anybody. They have no idea of politics. They just happened to be standing in the way of the bullets and bombs."