Ann Curry, David Turnley on why they shoot: our shared humanity
At the One Club this week, Ann Curry and David Turnley talked about a lot of things: drawing blood with a swift playground punch (Curry), being mesmerized by a diner’s squeegee man (Turnley) and how they met (in college).
But most importantly, on a simple stage in front of the hundred or so people who came to listen, they talked about a deep responsibility to our shared humanity and the virtue of empathy – which, as photojournalists, are the motivations behind their work.
“I think what motivates me is that there are people all over the world who do not have a voice,” Curry said. “This to me is wrong, because every one of us counts. Every one of us is important. … So it moves me to be able to give these people a voice.”
She recounted the story of an 18-year-old woman she met in a hospital room in the Congo many years ago, who was the subject of an intimate black-and-white photo she shared with the audience. The photo seemed to capture the young woman’s grace and strength – and suffering – at a time of war and chaos.
The woman, named Sifa, Curry had learned, had been kidnapped and brutally raped and abused for months before she was rescued by a good Samaritan and brought to the hospital. There, she had undergone intense surgery to reconstruct her organs – although, she was told, she would never be able to bear children or enjoy the “normal” life she had before her injuries.
Curry said she asked Sifa if she wanted revenge on her captors.
“And Sifa said, ‘Revenge? No,” Curry recalled. “All I want is to rise from this bed and thank the people who took care of me. And maybe work for God. And maybe I will get to feel a mother’s love.’ ”
Curry and Turnley told many of the stories behind their images – which included a toddler in Darfur who just lost his father to disease, a family on a train in South Africa during apartheid and Nelson Mandela during his time in prison. But no matter what walk of life each photo represented, a common thread united them all.
“[It’s about] human dignity,” Turnley said. “How can I use a camera on a daily basis to simply register the inextricable human dignity of all human beings?”
It’s a responsibility deeply ingrained in him from his childhood growing up in Detroit, when the Civil Rights movement was underway, and there was great racial and socio-economic divides in his young world. He recalled breakfast at a diner with his dad where he watched a man squeegee the glass windows with such finesse that he looked to the young Turnley as if he were executing a well-choreographed dance. He told the crowd about his father’s words that day — about how it doesn’t matter what job you hold in life, but rather, how you do it.
Curry also recalled her childhood, equally astute to the divisions in the world around her. She told the crowd how she once punched another child in the face after he called her a racial slur for someone of Japanese heritage. She drew blood, she said, and it became one experience of many which shaped her view of the world.
“I have a sense of justice for the little guy,” Curry said. “Empathy is really the key. I think it’s the greatest human attribute because I think it is the connective glue. … It’s the greatest virtue.”
“I never say I take a picture,” he said. “I make a picture. If I look at you through my camera, I’m acknowledging you.
“There are four values which connect us,” he said. “We are all born; we will all die and lose someone we love; we all have the desire to love and be loved; and human dignity.”
Editor’s note: The One Club is the world’s foremost non-profit organization for the recognition and promotion of excellence in advertising. In the New York area? The One Club’s Creative Week runs through May 10 and is chock full of exhibitions and presentations. For free access to the Mercer Street thought leadership sessions, use code Mercer_Comp when checking out of the Creative Week registration.