Thanks Mark A. Carruthers for inviting me to be part of your “One Frame” blog!
Many people ask me if my life has changed since winning the Pulitzer Prize. Most recently CBS Sunday Morning Correspondent Tony Dokoupil asked me and before I could answer he joked, “You have a permanent name change!”
True, I thought as he went on to say Pulitzer Prize winning Renée C. Byer…. But seriously, I’m grateful for the unparalleled honor and I feel a responsibility to my subjects that always resonates with me every time I’m asked. Most importantly, the award placed me in a forum to motivate change as I traveled the world sharing my subject’s story, “A Mother’s Journey.”
It would be easy to select “One Frame” from the twenty award-winning images for this blog but I’d like to share with you a photo I made on a personal project outside of my daily newspaper job. My frame stems from a photograph I made during a leave of absence while I worked on a book project, “Living on a Dollar a Day: The Lives and Faces of the World’s Poor.”
That project has since become a worldwide exhibition that invites the public to act when they are standing in front of the images.
I think of myself as a journalist who chooses the art of photography to bring awareness to issues throughout the world. As a documentary photojournalist, I adhere to a code of ethics and my pictures depict the unvarnished realities of life. Art is a powerful means of expression, but combined with journalism it has the ability to bring awareness to issues that can elevate the public’s understanding and compassion and hopefully affect meaningful social change.
Known for my ability to translate stark statistics into images that connect us to our humanity, I traveled throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America for this project. Time and access are the essence of compelling photojournalism. I spend a lot of time with my subjects understanding their plight so I can document their lives as it unfolds. Sometimes that took hours and often days. In this project on extreme poverty I felt it was important to preserve the dignity of my subjects and I wanted to make images documenting their reality so people could imagine themselves living in their situation. There is a quiet vulnerability of emotion that translates the human condition and my aim is to capture that without my presence being perceived. It’s extremely difficult when you are traveling with translators, and other people and you have to rely on them to communicate your mindset. So getting subjects to forget you are there can be challenging.
My image “Hoping for Miracle,” is a frame I never imagined. From a hallway I was photographing Ana Maria’s family living in a small one-room apartment in an abandoned building in Bucharest, Romania. The room lacked running water and a bathroom. Her father had lost his job after complications from a gall bladder surgery as they were struggling to survive and faced eviction from the only home they knew. Kneeling in the hallway to document their lives in front of me, I saw Ana Maria standing out of the corner of my eye, not in the room with her family. I slowly moved the camera in hopes she would not move. All the weight of her family seemed to be on her shoulders as she faced the light. Above her a religious painting added another element of hope in her despair. Her small hands are slightly blurred in motion as she contemplates her fate. I remember praying that the image was exposed correctly as I framed and clicked. I think she remained in her statuesque position because she was used to my presence after photographing her family for days.
I was working with Samuel Social, a non-profit in Romania, and that family was immediately helped after I shed light on their plight. The little girl is now enrolled in school and I’m relieved that positive change happened as it has for many of the subjects in the book that is now a traveling exhibition.
Growing up in New York when I was a little girl about Ana Maria’s age I would visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and imagine myself in Monet’s garden or one of Renoir’s impressionistic paintings never imagining there was a life that existed where people struggle to survive. In this image you are quietly reminded that place exists.
Nikon 24-70@24 mm f/2.8 1/60 ISO 800
CBS Sunday Morning Interview: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/living-on-one-dollar-a-day/