Carol Guzy
A Photojournalist's Story

"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."
--Carol Guzy

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," she says.

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 fresh.

"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."

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COMMENTS
crazymeme's picture

Haiti is a beautiful country with amazing landscapes. But very few of us know that beyond that beauty hides a society in which people struggle to live from day to day and the level of violence is very increased. My father lived there for more than ten years and a few months ago he decided to return home and to find a job here in order to be close to us. Unfortunately a day before his return he was attacked on a little street from Haiti and he was killed. It is very difficult for us to understand why and how it happened that and the only image that I have in my mind is that with my father lying at the Quincy funeral home.

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