Alaska Quarterly Review: Liberty and Justice (for All)

While photography has finally in the last few decades proven to be a formidable art form, photojournalism is still considered more journalism than art, suggesting that an article's photos are merely in support of the text and have no life of their own. This couldn't be further from the truth. The best photojournalism tells its own story and creates a visual impression as powerful as any piece of art. 

And it is a dangerous art form to be practicing. In April 2011, two veteran photojournalists—Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros—were killed while covering the civil war in Libya. In February 2012, emerging photojournalist Remi Ochlik was killed during the uprising in Syria. 

Photojournalism is starting to receive the respect it deserves in the art community: museums are holding exhibitions (Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art has an exhibition on Hetherington's work through May 20, 2012) and even literary journals are featuring photojournalists' works. In the first of two 30th-anniversary issues of Alaska Quarterly Review (AQR) co-founded by 1982 NEA Literature Fellow Ronald Spatz, its longtime editor, the literary journal will include the special feature, "Liberty and Justice (for All): A Global Photo Mosaic." The feature, which includes photographs and narratives about the images from 68 photographers from 22 countries, is a tribute to Hetherington and Hondros, and was guest-edited by Spatz's son Benjamin, a noted photojournalist who was a colleague of Hetherington and Hondros'. 

Each image in the section was submitted by the photojournalists as the one image they've taken that best represents the theme of "liberty and justice." They also provide a brief narrative about the image. As Benjamin J. Spatz notes in his introduction, "Taken together, their words and images create a tapestry of the varied nature of liberty and justice that coalesce to explore something more fundamental: the pursuit and importance of truth." The truth of these images range from the joy of voting for the first time to the effects of contaminated water to tensions over immigration to the plight of war victims across the globe. They tell stories of hope and suffering, of anger and resilience, of fear and joy. 

If, as Ronald Spatz states in the editor's note to the issue, "creating art is essentially a moral act," then these pieces certainly fit the definition. Nine of the photos are presented here, with excerpts from the photographers' narratives. To see all 68 photos and text, pick up the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of AQR, available in April 2012.

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An excited Liberian woman casts her presidential ballot in 2005

An excited Liberian woman casts her presidential ballot in 2005, during the country's first election since the end of its 14-year civil war. Women turned out in large numbers and were instrumental to the victory of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the continent's first democratically elected female head of state. Photo by Benjamin J. Spatz

Benjamin J. Spatz is an American Washington, DC-based Truman National Security Fellow whose work focuses on the relationships between conflict, displacement, and development. As a photographer, his work has been recognized by Pictures of the Year International and the National Press Photographers Association.

"Her radiant smile lit the humid room like a 1000-watt bulb as she placed her presidential ballot in the box. When my shutter fired, somebody shouted in Liberian patois, ‘White man snapping de old ma voting o!' She smiled wider.

"Even though she stood no more than four-and-a-half-feet tall, hardly taller than the ballot box itself, she seemed to be ten feet tall on November 8, 2005, as she put her own stamp on Liberia's history.

"She was voting for the first time in her life, and so was her country. This was Liberia's first truly free and fair election since freed American slaves had founded the nation in 1847. It was an emphatic turning point after fourteen years of war."

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Joséphine Nsimba Mpongo practices the cello in the Kimbanguiste neighborhood of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

Joséphine Nsimba Mpongo practices the cello in the Kimbanguiste neighborhood of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. She is a member of the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste, Central Africa's only symphony orchestra. Photo by Andrew McConnell

Andrew McConnell is an Irish photographer who started his career in Belfast before transitioning to more in-depth social documentary work around the world. His work has been recognized by World Press Photo and the National Press Photographers Association, among others. He also has received a Sony World Photography Award and a Luis Valtueña Humanitarian Photography Award.

"Joséphine Nsimba Mpongo…lives in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is perhaps the African country with the most potential, but the least to show for it. During the day, she works in the market selling food to make ends meet. In the evenings she practices with her fellow musicians in the Kimbanguiste neighborhood of the city. To watch her there and hear the music rising through the rundown streets is one of the most uplifting experiences imaginable. Women in this part of the world often suffer huge injustices, but in those moments listening to Joséphine play I glimpsed something else: that rare instant when the human spirit is displayed before your eyes, indestructible, with all that hope, all that possibility."

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Phillip Carl dumps water into a bin in the family's home in Newtok, Alaska, on August 14, 2009

Phillip Carl dumps water into a bin in the family's home in Newtok, Alaska, on August 14, 2009. His son Abraham, 10, hauls water for his family from a treatment facility nearby. The community will need to relocate soon; the rapidly eroding banks of Ninglick River are encroaching on village homes. Photo by Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News

Marc Lester is an American staff photographer with the Anchorage Daily News. He was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. His multimedia work has been recognized by the National Press Photographers Association.

"In Newtok, Alaska, water is everywhere, except where it is needed in the homes of the 360 residents. Melting ice thaws the tundra beneath their feet and warps their homes. Rivers, crucial for subsistence hunting and fishing, eat away at their shores and threaten to swallow their buildings. Water sustains even while it erodes, a force too great to control. Residents temper the irony as best they can, here one bucketful at a time."

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Seven-year-old Poonam cools off from the August heat outside her house in Bhopal, India, the site of the 1984 Union Carbide industrial disaster

Seven-year-old Poonam cools off from the August heat outside her house in Bhopal, India, the site of the 1984 Union Carbide industrial disaster. Tens of thousands of people face increased health risks due to ongoing underground water contamination. Photo by Alex Masi

Alex Masi is an Italian photojournalist whose work focuses on children affected by conflict, pollution, poverty, and disease. His images from Bhopal have won numerous awards, including a 2011 Getty Images Grant for Good, which will allow him to continue documenting life in this poverty-stricken area.

"Bhopal is the site of the 1984 Union Carbide gas leak, widely regarded as one of the world's worst industrial disasters. The catastrophe left at least 15,000 dead, according to the Indian government, and many thousands more afflicted with serious health problems.

"But that was not the end of the tragedy. Most of the area surrounding the former pesticide factory now has serious deep-water contamination. The corporation, now owned by Dow Chemical Company, buried tons of chemical waste after the accident. Heavy monsoon rains soak the region each year, seeping through the buried waste and further polluting underground reservoirs.

"Yet I find the image of Poonam inspiring: a little girl wearing a simple dress and an earring, sitting alone, refreshing herself in the rain. She is free to run barefoot on the ground, without apparent worry, water falling on her cheeks."

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Indian Border Security Force soldiers patrol the picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir

Indian Border Security Force soldiers patrol the picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir. Once a tourist hotspot, the only visitors to this magnificent landscape these days are Indian soldiers. Photo by Ami Vitale

Ami Vitale is an American photographer based in Montana. She has worked in more than 75 countries and is a contract photographer with National Geographic. Her work has been recognized by World Press Photo, a Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award, Lucie Awards, the Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting, and Pictures of the Year International's Magazine Photographer of the Year.

"I made this image in 2003 in the disputed Indian-controlled state of Kashmir, the site of a long-standing proxy war between India and Pakistan.

"Kashmir was once a tourism center, and these boats, called shikaras, are traditionally meant for tourists, couples, and honeymooners. But nowadays these symbols of new beginnings are sometimes used by Indian border control officers to patrol for militia members and hunt insurgents."

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Nissrine, an immigrant to the Netherlands from Morocco, reads an application form for a citizenship course in Utrecht in 2007

Nissrine, an immigrant to the Netherlands from Morocco, reads an application form for a citizenship course in Utrecht in 2007. This portrait is a re-imagining of Dutch painter Jan Vermeer's Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window. Photo by Jan Banning

Jan Banning is a Dutch photographer born to immigrant parents from the Dutch East Indies. The central theme in his work is state power and its abuse. His work has been exhibited in museums and galleries and published widely in books, magazines, and newspapers. His work has been recognized by many organizations, including World Press Photo. He has produced eight books and has contributed to many more.

"Xenophobia, especially Islamophobia, is rising in many European countries. In my native Netherlands, as in Italy, France, Denmark, and elsewhere, ultra-nationalist political parties have made anti-immigration policies central to their platform. They have found electoral success in this strategy and are now part of many national governments and parliaments. They tap into underlying economic uncertainties, play on rising domestic inequalities, and stoke nativist fears of the ‘other.'

"I feel it is necessary to mobilize against such intolerance. My ‘National Identities' series gives immigrants the main role, using them as models in my photographic variations on classic paintings."

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Young girls leave a camp for internally displaced persons to gather firewood in Darfur, Sudan

Young girls leave a camp for internally displaced persons to gather firewood in Darfur,
Sudan. For some, the work will take more than seven hours, lead them past government
checkpoints and leave them exposed to attacks from militants and bandits. Photo by Ron Haviv/VII

Ron Haviv is an American photojournalist and co-founder of the VII Photo Agency. His career has focused on conflict and humanitarian crises around the world since the end of the Cold War. His photography has been recognized by many organizations, including World Press Photo and Pictures of the Year International, and has been featured in the Louvre, the United Nations, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He has published three books and has been the central character in three films, including National Geographic Explorer's Freelance in a World of Risk.

"This is an image from Darfur, Sudan, the most recent example of genocide in our world.

"This young girl presents herself with dignity, pride, and a quiet and powerful resilience. It makes me believe that no matter how difficult life may become, one can survive."

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A child soldier rides back to his base in the Ituri District of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003

A child soldier rides back to his base in the Ituri District of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale/VII

Marcus Bleasdale is a British documentary photographer with the VII Photo Agency. His work has been shown at the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the United Nations, the UK Houses of Parliament, and many museums around the world. His work has been recognized by, among others, the UNICEF Photographer of the Year Award, Pictures of the Year International's Magazine Photographer of the Year and Photo Book of the Year awards. He has published two books: One Hundred Years of Darkness and The Rape of a Nation.

"This boy is from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He became a fighter as a preteen, an 11-year-old forced to carry a Kalashnikov while he was still so small that he couldn't even ride a man's bike. He killed and was nearly killed many times.

"To me, this image screams the need to address the injustice of the child soldier. Children fight in wars around the world. They are forced to kill and die so that adults might gain wealth and power. This is everything we should be fighting against."

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Memunatu Mansaray imitates the Statue of Liberty, America's symbol of freedom, during a charity boat tour

Memunatu Mansaray imitates the Statue of Liberty, America's symbol of freedom, during a charity boat tour. She came to the United States with a group of Sierra Leonean war amputees to receive prosthetic limbs in 2000. They had endured rebel brutality, but their vitality and spirit remained intact. Photo by Carol Guzy/Freelance

Carol Guzy is an American staff photographer at the Washington Post. She is the only journalist to have won four Pulitzer Prizes. Her work has also been recognized by three National Press Photographers Association Photographer of the Year awards, eight White House News Photographers Association Photographer of the Year awards, and a Leica Medal of Excellence.

"Four-year-old Memunatu Mansaray, known as Memuna, was among eight Sierra Leonean children brought to the United States in 2000 to receive prostheses for amputations suffered in the West African nation's civil war. New York doctor Matthew Mirones made this humanitarian act possible when he started a program to fit the children with new limbs.

"Memuna, now Memunatu Mansaray McShane, lives in Washington, DC with her adopted family. She loves soccer and plays easily with her siblings Michael and Molly. The family fits like a glove. She has discovered drawing, ice-skating, sledding, and acting in school plays.

"She is a radiant example of the good that can be accomplished by the small acts of a few compassionate people who are determined to make a difference. In these dark and troubled times, it is a story of hope."