Seasoned National Geographic photographers join aspiring South Sudanese photographers, empowering the youth to tell the story of their country as only natives can.
Lynn Johnson was a shy girl who spent a lot of high school poring over books in the library. One day, she happened upon a book of photographs by Dorothea Lange and other documentary photographers who had worked for the Farm Security Administration. It changed her life.
"I immediately fell in love with the power of those pictures," Johnson recalls. "In my short and rather sheltered life, I had never seen migrant workers or sharecroppers, and certainly had not experienced loss or pain like that, but I could feel it in those photographs. I had an emotional reaction to them I'd never felt. It made me want to pick up a camera."
She began by making photographs for her high school yearbook, an experience that allowed her to discover her innate talent and something more:
"When you're shy, a camera becomes an entry into life," she says. "It was a kind of shield I could hide my shyness behind, and it allowed me to become an active observer rather than a passive one."
Since then, this shy girl has climbed the radio antenna atop Chicago's John Hancock Tower, clambered around scaffoldings with steel workers, and lived among fishermen on Long Island and guerrillas in Vietnam. She has done in-depth portraits of celebrities including Stevie Wonder, Michael Douglas, Mr. Rogers, and the entire U.S. Supreme Court. But Lynn Johnson's passion remains-just as it was kindled that day in her high school library-documenting the lives of regular people.
Her gripping photo essays of a family struggling with AIDS, of children coping with the brain death of their mother, and many others are honest and sensitive glimpses into the lives of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances, and are classics of the genre.
Telling those stories, and getting them in print, has not been easy. After graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Johnson was hired as the first woman staff photographer at the Pittsburgh Press.
"Oh good," one of the older photographers at the paper told her when she arrived. "Now we have someone who can cover tea parties."
"Those guys were great, and great teachers, but they were also rather stuck in their time. Because I'm a woman, and because I'm small (she's 5'1"), it never occurred to them that I could do more than cover social events. I needed to prove it to them. When photo assignments would come in, I didn't wait for one to be handed to me. I'd just grab the one I wanted-without telling anyone-and go off and do it."
She stayed at the newspaper for seven years, and during that time she convinced the editors of the Sunday newspaper to let her do photo essays.
"I was getting frustrated with the quick in and out of spot news." Johnson says. "I felt that a lot of the stories needed more space, just out of a sense of fairness to the subjects."
When she left the Pittsburgh Press, she was invited to participate in a project to document fishermen on Long Island called "Men's Lives."
"It was a true documentary project. Adelaide DeMeril, the woman who supported it, said, 'Go and take pictures, go honor these people's lives.' The other photographers and I never had to justify a single frame or a single dime. I worked on the project off and on for a year, and it really prepared me for the kind of work I've been doing ever since.
"The emphasis in doing any in-depth photography is on building relationships, quality relationships. It's what I call thirty-cups-of-coffee-a-frame photography. You need to enter into the community-not just photographically, but intellectually and emotionally. And I began to understand the idea of education through photography and the importance of photographs over time.
"Photographs help people look at things they may not be able or may not want to look at," says Johnson. "Until you can look at something, you can't change it. First you have to look at it, then you have a chance to understand it and can change it.
"For me, photography has been a mission. I don't mean on the grand scale, but in the sense of the daily awareness that each one of us is responsible for the wider community, that your sense of self and sense of responsibility outside yourself is as wide as you can embrace. It's a commitment to try to fulfill that responsibility by doing work about things that matter."
Johnson's commitment and her sensitivity are evident in her photographs. Few other people are able to enter into the lives of others with such emotional and photographic intimacy, and Johnson attributes her ability to do so to a simple priority.
"The people-the relationships and the experiences-are more important than the photographs," she says. "As journalists, our responsibility is not to manipulate people, but to honor them and their stories," she says.
"The only time I literally shake with fear," she says, "is not when the situation is physically dangerous, but when it is emotionally charged. I try to be careful not to impact the emotional terrain, to be aware of and sensitive to how much pain someone is in, and always aware how much of a gift being in their presence is."
She prepares for her assignments by reading a lot and listening to people talk about the subject. "I like hearing people's voices," she says. "Research is an internal process of becoming aware of and comfortable with the material, an incremental education that fills you with the subject."
Matt Moyer is a photojournalist committed to documenting the social and cultural issues that affect our world. His intimate photographs go behind the headlines to put a human face on the biggest issues of the day.
For the past decade Moyer has spent his time photographing feature stories for National Geographic magazine and documenting social issues for non-profit foundations. He has also worked on assignment for other prominent publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, The Independent, and The Guardian. He has covered the major events of the past decade including the fall of the twin towers, security contractors in Afghanistan, healthcare in America, and the Iraq war.
Matt explains, "I approach my work with an ethic that was formed early in my career while documenting small communities in rural New York State. My subjects were my neighbors and my community. I had to look them in the eye not only when I was working on a story but for weeks and months after. This drove me to get the story right and tell it as I saw it with empathy and honesty. Now, whether I am photographing a farm family in rural America or a Shiite family in Baghdad, I call upon the lessons I learned and always remember to view my subjects as members of my extended community."
Moyer's documentary photography has been recognized for numerous international awards and appeared in several books including The Best of Photojournalism series, Report From Ground Zero, and Witness to War. His work has also been exhibited throughout the world.
Moyer sits on the Board of Advisors for The Siena School, a school for students with language-based learning differences, headquartered in Washington, DC. He also spends time every year teaching with the National Geographic Photo Camp, a program that teaches photography to children in underserved communities.
Moyer was named a Knight Wallace Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan in 2008 and the Knight Fellow at Ohio Univeristy's prestigious School of Visual Communications in 2012.
Amy Toensing, an American photojournalist committed to telling stories with sensitivity and depth, is known for her intimate essays about the lives of ordinary people.
Toensing received a B.A. in human ecology from the College of the Atlantic in Maine, where she spent her senior year studying photography at the Salt Institute for Documentary Field Studies in Portland. In 1994 Toensing was hired as a staff photographer at her New Hampshire hometown paper, The Valley News, where she covered the community she grew up in. She then worked for The New York Times, Washington D.C. bureau, covering the White House and Capitol Hill during the Clinton Administration. In 1998 Toensing left D.C. to get her master's degree from the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University. In 1999 she was awarded the National Geographic photographic internship. Since then she has been a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine and recently completed her 13th feature story. Her work has also appeared in publications such as Smithsonian, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time, and National Geographic Traveler.
Toensing's work has been exhibited throughout the world and recognized with numerous awards. She has covered stories close to home, from Maine and the Jersey Shore to places on the other side of the globe, including the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea and the Australian outback. She has also covered newsworthy issues such as the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and Muslim women living in Western society.
Toensing lives in the Hudson Valley of New York with her husband, Matt Moyer, who is also a contributing photographer for National Geographic magazine.