A Photographer Who Makes a Difference
Profiling the Washington Post's Carol Guzy.
By Sherry Ricchiardi
Sherry Ricchiardi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an AJR senior contributing writer.
Over a crackling telephone line with voices fading in and out, the frustration was evident. Carol Guzy was having a bad day in Kenya's teeming capital of Nairobi.
After transmitting only two photos to the Washington Post, the battery in her satellite phone went dead. Then an electrical outage hit, forcing her to work by candlelight. "I really hate this," said the photojournalist, who has been labeled one of the world's best.
Technology, she says, is not her forte. "This is the last profession I should have picked because there is so much technical stuff you have to know. When the equipment doesn't work, it's a nightmare," grumbled the Pennsylvania native. Moments later, the real Carol Guzy clicked in.
"I feel blessed that I am able to do something I love so much," she said, over the static. On this African trip she photographed an Ethiopian midwife whom Guzy described as "so sweet, so generous, so kind..one of the angels roaming the earth." Shining the spotlight on unsung heroes is a trademark of her work.
A vegetarian who loathes violence, Guzy has served as eyewitness to some of the world's worst carnage. Her stark images of Africa's tribal wars include crying children, still clinging to their dead mothers; refugees desperately scavenging for food; piles of mutilated bodies. She has also documented famines in Ethiopia and Somalia. "I have seen far too much death," she says.
The dedication to her profession has taken its toll. Guzy is divorced and her personal life is in flux, as she describes it. She talks about longing for stability but continues on a high-speed course that isn't likely to lead to a white-picket-fence existence. She put off the decision to have children during her marriage.
"It's difficult to maintain a relationship when two people are going in different directions," she says. "Some people want a life without ripples. But, for me, that is not fully living. I have real highs and real lows. I need that kind of intensity; I believe in embracing and feeling the moment."
As a youngster, she dreamed of seeing the world before she was 30. "I always had a wanderlust," Guzy says.
She once told a reporter that being a woman might be an advantage for establishing intimacy with subjects. "I'm less intimidating in the beginning than maybe a 6-foot, 4-inch man with a lot of cameras. I'm quiet, I'm small, I'm female, and I think that intimidates people a lot less," says Guzy, who stands 5-feet, 4-inches tall.
Over the years, she has left gender barriers in her wake. Guzy was the first professional woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography – she won in 1986 and again in 1995. She cracked the male stranglehold on the Newspaper Photographer of the Year title in 1990, the first woman to win the honor in the prestigious Pictures of the Year (POY) competition. She won again in 1993 and 1997.
She has earned the White House News Photographers' Association's top award six times in the last seven years. Her poignant images of the human condition often have been compared to those of the late W. Eugene Smith, famous for his penetrating documentaries. Like Smith, Guzy often turns her cameras toward topics that promote social consciousness.
David Peterson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist with the Des Moines Register and a POY judge in 1997, says Guzy "might be the best news photographer in the world. Her work...shows a tremendous level of commitment."
As a judge scrutinizing her entries, Peterson saw photos that reflected "incredible patience" and a sophisticated eye for detail. Her work, Peterson says, has taken on greater depth over the past six years. "She sees things almost in layers now. And she's willing to put herself in dangerous situations to add a better understanding to the world. She is there, almost like an ambassador for us," he says.
?et, sitting alone in a dark room in Nairobi, Guzy, 41, chooses to talk less about her photography and more about the personal life she leaves behind during globetrotting assignments. She reminisces about her 81-year-old mother, who worries for her safety and makes regular visits to church to light candles in her daughter's behalf. "Mom doesn't quite understand my lifestyle yet. All she ever asks is, 'When are you going to settle down and have a normal life?' But I
wouldn't trade this for anything in the world," says Guzy.
The hardest thing, she says, is leaving her "adorable" dog Molly, who suffers from serious bouts of separation anxiety. "The minute I take out a suitcase, Molly's little head goes down on the couch and stays down. It's very pitiful. I don't know how people who have kids do it," she says.
Her love of photography blossomed after a boyfriend gave her a 35mm camera as a gift. She was enrolled at a community college at the time, training to be a nurse. After graduation, she headed to the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale to sharpen her photo skills.
She credits her first photography instructor, Walter Michot, now at the Miami Herald, with being an inspiration. In a News Photographer magazine article Michot noted, "She went out with the idea of shooting feelings rather than shooting pictures. I think that's what put her in the big leagues."
Still, Guzy's store of self-esteem appears to hover near empty. "To me, nothing I've ever shot is good enough. I have gained a little bit of self-confidence in some areas. That comes with age and experience, but I'm still basically shy and introverted. I'm always afraid I'm going to screw up the next story," she says. "You're only as good as your last picture."
For Guzy, the passion she feels for photography is a
double-edged sword. "The most important thing a photographer can do is make people feel at the gut level. But if you don't feel it deeply yourself, it will show in your pictures. Being this emotional wreaks havoc on my personal relationships, but adds sensitivity to my pictures."
She doesn't view it as a weakness when she cries at the sight of starving children or war-ravaged refugees. "But I don't let it be as devastating as it was when I was younger... My heart's been broken a lot over what I have seen."
Drawing attention to human suffering strengthens her sense of purpose. "It's a domino effect," the photojournalist says. "People see a series of images and react emotionally to them. Their interest blossoms, and you have created a little bit of understanding.
"You have made a difference." ###