Four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Carol Guzy returned to her hometown of Bethlehem for the annual InVision Photo Festival to share her photographs and give insight about the importance of empathy and compassion in visual storytelling.
The InVision Photo Festival, which is presented by ArtsQuest every year, offers talks and workshops with prominent photographers and artists.
Stacie Brennan, ArtsQuest’s director of visual arts, said the festival is “designed to celebrate the diverse, artistic and cultural community in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding region.”
Guzy recently returned from Puerto Rico after a month of documenting the destruction caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“There’s always guilt after leaving, after covering those dire situations, because I can get on a plane and leave,” Guzy said.
She often travels to places in crisis, drawn to where people desperately need their stories told.
“(Guzy) is an amazing individual,” said Chris Post, an award-winning photojournalist and Guzy’s longtime friend.
Post introduced her at the “Bearing Witness” event Nov. 4 at the Banana Factory Arts Center.
Post, who has worked with Guzy on a few assignments, described her as a “humanitarian photojournalist.” Back in January, the two covered the presidential inauguration together in Washington, D.C.
Post said on that day, in the midst of protests and chaos, he looked over to see Guzy photographing someone holding a flower.
“This one symbol of hope, of decency, of some sort of humanitarian outreach in this crazy scenario — (Guzy) honed in on that,” he said.
Guzy originally studied nursing at Northampton Community College. She took a photography class as an elective and said the most defining moment of her life was the first time she ever saw a photograph come to life as it developed.
“It was pure magic,” Guzy said. In that moment, she was hooked on photography.
Since then, Guzy has worked for the Miami Herald and The Washington Post and now works as a freelance photojournalist.
She’s witnessed the anguish of conflicts, the depths of revolution and the disparity of extreme poverty.
She’s walked with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, met Mother Teresa and Muhammad Ali, and cried for those suffering in Haiti a thousand times. And yet, even in the depths of despair, Guzy always finds the tokens of hope.
“We’re challenged in our work, not only to examine issues and expose problems, but also to find poetry in everyday lives,” Guzy said.
Festival attendee Wendy Jamison has been a member of ArtsQuest for many years and attends the InVision Photo Festival annually.
“I just wanted to see if (Guzy) was as passionate as her art is, and I’m blown away,”Jamison said. “Her heart comes out through her photography.”
Guzy said she worries a shoot-the-messenger mentality toward the media is escalating. With terms such as “fake news” constantly thrown around, she hopes the public can find a way to trust the media again.
“I don’t think society realizes what they’re losing when they lose documentary photojournalism,” Guzy said.
Guzy has seen the direct power her photographs have had, and for her, it’s not about taking great photos — it’s about telling the narratives of others.
“It’s a different kind of courage, staying with a story even when it’s ripping your heart to shreds,” Guzy said.
Guzy, who was born and raised in Bethlehem, said returning to her hometown brought back memories of her mother and sister, who both recently passed away.
When it was announced that she had won her fourth Pulitzer Prize, Guzy called her mother first, even though she was in a late stage of Alzheimer’s.
“I didn’t think she would understand,” Guzy said, “but I knew she would have been proud.”
Guzy advises aspiring photojournalists to not become discouraged and to pursue a career if they really want it, since she’s had to make sacrifices throughout her career.
Although her lifestyle has been a lot of work, Guzy cannot imagine doing anything else.
“Storytelling is my oxygen,” she said.