Sometimes, a picture is just a picture. But in the case of Lisa Kristine, a picture is a tool, a powerful instrument for connecting humans from disparate corners of the globe and crusading for awareness and social justice. This year’s Lucie Award honoree for humanitarian photography, Kristine is based in San Francisco but has spent over twenty-five years travelling to far-flung corners of the globe and documenting indigenous populations from Ghana to Thailand. In recent years, Kristine has partnered with the NGO Free the Slaves; wielding her camera as an instrument of justice, she documents slavery around the world, hoping to open people’s eyes to the devastating human rights violations happening in their own backyard. She has also released a book, “Slavery,” whose proceeds go to benefit Free the Slaves.
With a keen eye, a masterful use of color, and a knack for portraiture that captures the human spirit. Kristine has garnered widespread acclaim both in the photography world and on the international humanitarian stage. She was the sole exhibitor at the 2009 Vancouver Peace Summit and has been endorsed by the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Queen Mother of Bhutan and Amnesty International, among others. Amnesty International director Helen Garret says of her work, “Lisa Kristine’s photographs of humanity underscore the beauty and dignity of each person. Unflinching and riveting, they sear into your memory and demand you pay attention to the issues.”
In addition to her work as a photographer, Kristine travels the globe speaking at museums, universities and TED conferences about the reality of human enslavement in the modern world, illuminated by her captivating photographs. She talked to Resource this week about how a National Geographic-obsessed little girl became a world-class photographer, and what it means to be a 21st century abolitionist.
What is your earliest memory of photography?
As a child I would be the kid in the corner of our living room pouring through my mother’s anthropology books and National Geographic magazines. I perceived as a child that these people, covered in so much mud and feather, were a part of the earth itself. I recall they seemed like pillars of the earth, unshakable and empowered. I made a decision that when I was old enough I would go out into the world and find these people to see what it was they had cultivated that I could learn from.
If you hadn’t been a photographer, what would you have done instead?
I have no idea. Photography has been a calling that has been steady and true in my life. It’s been my passion as long as I can remember.
What excites you about photography?
Everything! We have the ability to learn so much from this form of expression. Photography is more than art, it is knowledge.
What does it mean to you to be honored with a Lucie Award?
It is an honor to be recognized for one’s contributions to an art form and a life’s work, especially one so close to my heart.
Do you see photography as an effective instrument for social change? What makes it so powerful as a medium?
Photography has the power to change the world. Through it’s purely visual nature, the images transcend language all together. A viewer from any place or walk of life can be in direct relationship with the image and therefore the subject within it -and be emotionally and viscerally moved to rise up and make a change. As an example, Eddie Adams 1968 photograph, “Murder of a Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief” of an officer shooting a handcuffed prisoner in the head at point-blank range not only earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1969, but also went a long way toward forming Americans’ attitudes about the Vietnam War.
As a witness to human suffering and injustice around the world, how do you balance the desire to help with the danger of causing more harm than good if you were to interfere? Do you feel empowered by telling these people’s stories, or helpless in bearing witness to their pain without being able to alleviate it, at least not as an individual?
When I am moved by something so powerfully as I have been by the knowledge of modern day slavery, I have found that fear takes a backseat to my shear commitment to bring awareness to something of such great injustice. The mission of igniting others to change through the visual story telling is the one weapon I have to fight this injustice. I can’t sleep without doing something and I have the faith that the viewers of these photographs will feel the same way and be moved to make a stand for change.
Your artist mission speaks to finding the beauty in a diverse and inter-locking world. Where do you see the common threads? Are we as humans more similar at heart than we are different?
Although scientists studying DNA have long learned that, despite physical differences, all humans are 99% identical, we still perceive differences in the color of our skin, our beliefs, our ways of life. I have always found in these variances, that it is those very differences that make us one, much like the many different threads that make up an astounding tapestry. What would the world be like if instead of responding to other’s “differences” with fear, we did so with a spirit of curiosity and wonder?
Resource will continue its behind-the-scenes look at the Lucie Awards throughout the week. Check back later tomorrow when we speak with photojournalist John H. White!
The 2013 Lucie Awards Gala will take place this Saturday, Oct. 27, at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City at 7:00 p.m. To purchase tickets visit www.carnegiehall.org.