Saturday, May 17, 2008

Reflections of the Journey of Photographer John Isaac

This afternoon I saw the photography exhibit and talk by the remarkable photographer John Isaac at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. John Isaac was a United Nations photographer from 1978 to 1998 who traveled to over 100 countries and witnessed and documented human struggle, pain, violence, and also resilience and hope in impoverished and war torn areas including Cambodia, Bosnia, India, Kuwait, Iran, and Afghanistan. He saw starvation in Ethiopia, genocide in Rwanda, war in Iraq, and children maimed by land mines in Kashmir. John mentioned several times that he is a human being first, a photographer second, and that it is of ultimate importance to him that he maintain respect for the diginity of the human condition in all of his photographs. He captures the wonderful humanity of a father caring for an injured son, a sister tending to a starving brother, a mother preparing a meal for her family. His photographs are human, real, raw, capturing the essence of pain and the essence of love and devotion.

After a long career of often witnessing unspeakable tragedy, John was overwhelmed by pain and unable to photograph any longer. He went through a severe depression, intending to never again pick up a camera. It was months of soul searching and eventually seeing the beauty in his neighbor's garden that brought him back to his love of the art of photography. Now he often chooses the exquisite beauty of nature as his subject. He photographed a magnificent tiger staring intently at the camera, sandhill cranes lit beautifully soaring past a full moon, elephants and zebras in Africa, gorgeous rock formations in the American Southwest, lush forests and streams in India.

If you live near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a beautiful collection of his photographs is on display at the Banana Factory until June 29. You can also see his photos at his website John Isaac.

Can you believe he sings also? This is John Isaac on the left.

A pot full of pansies outside the Banana Factory


At 10:33 AM, Blogger Mr Sammo said...

I looked at his website, and he does have some very good pictures. I think he underestimates himself a bit as a photographer.

Usually when we see pictures of horrors from across the globe they are too often just that, pictures taken for a paycheck, for adventure, or for a political purpose. I often wondered what it would be like for photographers who were a 'human being first' that could see the horror and suffering (and joy in some cases) of their subjects on a personal level.

I suppose it is not all surprising that for some photographers like John it would lead to them having a difficult psychological struggle about what they saw and documented. Thankfully in his case he is able to find some beauty in his work again.

At 9:18 PM, Blogger Anne said...

Thanks for your comment Sam. Yes, he is an amazing photographer that loves his subject: the human beings whose lives he has witnessed, and also the beauty of nature. He truly was an inspiration to me.


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