Carol Guzy has the unique distinction of being the first journalist for having won the Pulitzer Prize four times. And she wears that achievement rather lightly because what she sees on assignments to war and conflict zones is a reality where surviving in life is the biggest achievement!
Her latest series titled “Scars of Mosul, Legacy of ISIS 2”, is currently on display at the Indian Photo Festival in Hyderabad, presented by the National Geographic and it promises to move you.
She explains, “I focused on the trauma stabilization medical point and the volunteers who were working together with the Iraqi soldiers, as close to the frontline as we were allowed to be. And it was a butcher shop that they had converted into a trauma center. My focus was on the civilians. I went to Mosul, to cover the final battle of liberation and impact on the civilians because they’re caught in the middle, as always, suffering.”
The war in Syria and Iraq against ISIS has been the most widely covered war for today’s generation. It has played out in our living rooms on the news and on our smartphones.
We have viewed far too many videos of drone attacks, injured children, broken homes and devastated families, on a daily basis. There’s a point when I actually felt I have seen and read enough on this war in these past years. It can’t be anymore miserable and tragic. But Carol’s photographs still manage to shock you.
“I’m not a war correspondent, I don’t care about the gunbattle but my focus is the civilians in conflict zones and in disasters.”
Through her lens, you catch moments frozen in time. What could be a passing moment on video becomes a permanently life-altering moment that the viewer is confronted with, in Carol’s image. And this is when you wonder what has their life been after this photograph was taken. Are they still alive? Have they found some closure? Can they ever recover? For some victims, Carol has gone beyond the call of duty.
She says, “I have life long friendships with people from all over. I’ve lost my personal family but I feel I have family all over the world. People who have embraced me even after the camera is down and the story is finished. Take the story of Memouna, the little amputee from the war in Sierra Leone. She was brought to America to get prosthetics. I did a long term story for four years. I actually wanted to adopt Memouna but they wanted her to have a stable house and I was always on the move. But the next best thing was that a great family in DC adopted her and they loved me, they said the reason they found her was through my pictures. And they made me a Godmother which was such a great honour. The richest honour for me.”
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She is now known as Memouna Mansaray McShane and was famously called the Peace Girl, who became a symbol of one of the most brutal civil wars ever waged.
I was curious to know if working at conflict zones could be emotionally draining for Carol too?
“Over the years, I’ve had a few serious meltdowns, the worst thing that you can do (which you often do as a journalist), is repress those feelings because you are walking a journey with people and sometimes it is horrific, and at some point, you are going to feel it. And I worry more if you don’t feel it. The worst thing you can do is not talk about it. We are told we need to be strong, wear a mask, not show your feelings. I don’t believe in that at all,” says she.
Carol has no qualms in acknowledging that seeing human suffering from close quarters had at some point got the better of her. I’m grateful to her that she opened up to me while recalling a very painful phase of her life.
Over the years, I’ve had a few serious meltdowns, the worst thing that you can do (which you often do as a journalist), is repress those feelings because you are walking a journey with people and sometimes it is horrific, and at some point, you are going to feel it.
“I did have a crisis when I took a few months off from work many years ago to go into a therapy program. As a coping mechanism, it’s invaluable. It really helped. Then I lost my mom and sister to Alzheimer’s, I took leave to take care of them. I lost my best friend and my pets. And then I lost my job. Just the worst time. And that’s when I pretty much crumbled, I didn’t want anything to do with taking pictures or telling stories. I would pray not to live and not wake up the next morning! It was the absolute worst,” says she.
Carol further adds that it took her a long time to pull herself from the ashes. “I couldn’t move, I was so broken. Ironically, photojournalism helped me heal too because when I did start taking pictures, clawed my way up from my hole, it got me out of my own head. And I realised that when you are going through something it feels the worst in the world but you see there’s so much worse others are going through. I still had the desire to tell stories, it was as though I could breathe again. And now that I have chosen life; I cherish every moment more. It sounds cheesy but when you go to the bottom and come back, everything is more special.”
She says this while she hurriedly picks up her bag before she misses her flight out of Hyderabad. What’s next? I ask. “Mexico, for another workshop. And then cover more of the migrants’ border issue there.”
Like a woman on a mission, Carol promises to bring out the best from the most miserable circumstances that mankind has seen. As she spends more time with the population of victims across the world, they embrace her with trust and warmth. Her camera becomes incidental.
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Sahar Zaman is an independent political newscaster, arts journalist and curator.