"Not everyone gets
to meet an angel. Or spend a day with a legend. Or witness history.
Or see a man buried in a Mercedes. But photojournalists do."
In 1994 Washington Post photographer
Carol Guzy photographed the brutal death of a man in Port-au-Prince,
Haiti, at the hands of a vigilante mob seeking revenge for the death
of a community leader during a democracy march. The photograph shows
an American soldier as he tries to intervene just after the grenade
attack, holding his gun above the victim on the ground, the man pleading,
his hands outstretched. The picture was part of a portfolio that won
a Pulitzer Prize in '95 and is especially close to Guzy's
heart. For her the prize was a validation that these people mattered,
something she had tried for many long years to convey. Much of the work
in Haiti was premised on the idea that the influx of Haitian refugees
was gravely overlooked while we focused on the Cuban situation.
"Sometimes on the pages of a newspaper we see things that tear
at the very fibers of civilization," says Guzy, "and we
mourn the loss of hope in a land where the only justice is the justice
of the streets.
"I got hooked on these wonderful people in Haiti," she says,
"and I have never been anywhere where the life is quite the same.
They have gone through such hardship and turmoil and have still come
out with a sense of spirit and smiles. It is humbling.
"I have heard people say, `Oh, no, not another story on
Haiti--we've seen enough refugees--it's a cliché.'
But it is hard to tell a desperate woman holding a starving child that
she is merely a cliché. These people can't turn the page
or change a channel when they don't like the story. They're
stuck in reality long after the headlines are gone."
Guzy, who came to the Washing-ton Post in '88 to cover domestic
and foreign news was born 42 years ago in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and
received a degree in nursing in '78. An immediate decision to
change her career and pursue photography brought her to the Art Institute
of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she graduated with honors and an
Associate in Applied Science degree in Photography. From '80-'88
she worked as a staff photographer at the Miami Herald before joining
the Washington Post. Member of the National Press Photographers Association
and the White House News Photographers Association, Guzy has twice received
the Pulitzer Prize in spot news photography. The first award came for
her work in '86 during a mudslide in Colombia, followed by a 20-picture
package for the military intervention in Haiti. For the past seven years
Guzy has received honors as Photographer of the Year from the White
House News Photographers Association. The most recent honor came for
a portfolio of photographs taken at Mother Theresa's funeral in
'97. Guzy had flown to Calcutta from Africa to photograph the
funeral. "It was literally watching the passing of an icon,"
Although she is geared for working in substandard conditions in Third
World situations, a trip to Rwanda to cover the exodus from Zaire was
particularly grueling. She was suffering from jet lag, had no logistics
down, and no place to stay. "They even took away my satellite
phone," she recalls. "It was horrific."
In 1997 she returned to Africa to photograph the daily life in that
country. It was an attempt to balance out the negative media coverage
that showed only the war, famine, and turmoil that predominated. "It
was quite a backwash in DC about not having that kind of balance,"
Guzy explains, "and I was trying to look at other issues. Many
of the stories were phenomenal and were a life enriching experience.
I saw an unforgettable side of the human condition. Imagine witnessing
half a million people in Rwanda on the move--it was biblical. And what
I couldn't photograph was the quiet of these people, just walking,
footsteps and quiet..."
While we cannot close our eyes to the suffering in these troubled places,
we must not overlook the simple joys and wonders that have meant so
much to Guzy. There is beauty in her images as she journeys into the
world of Nomads, living with grace and elegance on the harsh desert
sands of Africa, or in the tender sight of a baby's bare bottom
peaking out between two figures as they move into the distance. "With
pictures we can weep for Rwanda and rage at the injustice everywhere,"
she says, "but we can also celebrate the daily life around us--it's
mystery and magic--it's poetry and wonder."
She tells of meeting a woman of great warmth and dignity last year who
had been volunteering as a midwife in her village for the past 17 years.
"She is their angel of mercy," Guzy says softly, "and
with her we wept as we watched the light leave the eyes of a dying child
and rejoiced as a baby burst forth into the world. To tell this woman's
story was a joy."
There is also the touching story of Sam and Theresa at the Hansen's
Disease Center in Louisiana. "Blind and disfigured from leprosy,
they carry each other through life's adversities with humor and
courage," Guzy recalls, "a love so deep it transcends the
world in which we are bound."
Many of Guzy's photographs (from her Singles Portfolio) are close
to home and another icon, Mo-hammed Ali, once the world's greatest
boxer, is one of her most admired subjects. And there is Alex, a 9-year-old
autistic boy who is a math genius. Guzy photographs him as he hides
beneath a table while a special education teacher tries to comfort him.
In another wonderful image Alex smiles in an attempt to communicate
with a fellow student.
We weep for an orphaned gorilla or at a farewell to a man laid to rest
in a Mercedes coffin. No one can speak of her work more eloquently than
Guzy--"peasants and presidents; the infamous, the common man,
and the powerless for whom we give voice--birth, bliss, sorrow, and
death--the tender and poignant moments that make up this mystery called
life. Our cameras take us there and let us share our vision. We see
it all. We are blessed."
The past year has been quiet for Guzy. She is travel weary, the emotional
toll of her work taking the form of terrible nightmares of the things
she has seen and wants so desperately to change. What she has witnessed
clings to her and there are times that she wonders why she does what
she does. "I have seen many horrors over the years," she
says, "and I am beginning now to look for the beauty in life.
I am being fired by simple gestures of kindness and tenderness. Sometimes
I just shake my head. I can't believe how our species treat each
other, the environment, and the animals. I have now become a total vegetarian."
Presently Guzy is a project person at the Washington Post and does not
maintain a regular shift. A lot of what she does is local coverage in
DC and can vary from doggy daycare to what is happening at the White
House. When we asked what a typical day might be like her answer was,
"There is no typical day and it is that variety that keeps you
"The pictures I have taken in Haiti show people how insane the
violence is. Yet it still continues and I am forever changed. I have
put together little stories now about Haiti and am trying to show tiny
rays of hope in the midst of all the madness. I think we must be touched
by these things, especially when we are witnessing turmoil and then
all of a sudden there is this one little gesture of kindness or the
face of genuine courage. Then you sense the resilience and beauty in
the human spirit even in the most desolate of times and it is touching.
It can move you to tears and restore your faith. I have tried to shoot
these things, too."
For Guzy photographs are an important tool--"they are a way to
show the qualities that make us all part of the human family."
With the world our backyard now, we are intertwined more than ever before
and our lives must reach everywhere. "There does, however, seem
to be an increasing `shoot the messenger' mentality toward
the media," she adds. "Editors have a term called the cereal
factor, what folks can bear to look at over their breakfast cereal.
Seeing too much death and destruction can generate a helplessness that
numbs and angers readers and fingers start pointing at the media for
running those disturbing images. It is easier to criticize a photographer
or editor than to address the root of the problem. But always remember,
there is a great danger in censoring reality."
Guzy's voice speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves
and her photographs are powerful documents that make a difference. "They
are," she says, "our life's work, our legacy."