Photojournalists have a particularly unique perspective on the notions of liberty and justice. They confront the full spectrum of human emotions: moments of joy and of anguish, in times of war and of peace. Many go where others don’t, to forgotten corners of their own communities and to far-off lands, often putting themselves in harm’s way to bring back visually arresting stories. Their charge is to seek truth as they bear witness to the world. Their work helps lay the foundation for deeper understanding and empathy.
Liberty and Justice (For All): A Global Photo Mosaic is an exploration of the concepts of liberty and justice. The 68 contributors, among them many of the world’s leading photojournalists, were asked to select one image that speaks to their sense of the theme and to pair that image with a brief narrative. There were no limitations on timeframe, subject matter or geography. Taken together, their words and images create a tapestry of the varied nature of liberty and justice that coalesce to explore something more fundamental: the pursuit and importance of truth.
This project was born from reflection on the lives of photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, who were killed on April 20, 2011, while covering the war in Libya. They were among their field’s most accomplished leaders, men who pushed boundaries and reshaped the landscape of visual communication. They were trusted friends for many included here. For me, they were also mentors.
Tim and Chris were men of conscience and action, fully and passionately engaged with the world. They strove to better understand the human condition and to convey that understanding to their audiences. Their work was thought-provoking, sometimes in new and uncomfortable ways. It demanded action. It was visceral in a way that forced you either to respond or risk becoming complicit by virtue of your inaction.
This collection is inspired by their passion for bringing the truth to light, and it is dedicated to them. But this is more than a tribute; it channels their energy to create something new, to advance a conversation that Tim and Chris participated in, and often led, for so many years. The enduring power of their work, and the work included here to honor them, is about more than any one conflict or idea. It taps into our aspirations for a more just and equitable world.
Tim and Chris helped steer us toward our voices, so I wanted each contributor’s distinctive voice to resonate loudly. Many contributors were anxious about choosing their own image for this collection, and I was asked many times to select one from a photographer’s archive. I always refused. I wanted the work to breathe and come alive; I wanted the audience to hear from each of the people who witnessed these stories.
You’ll hear Karim Ben Khelifa’s voice in his in-your-face contribution of a young Yemeni man who protested his nation’s president by painting “I’ll be the next martyr” in red on his bare chest. This timely image from the Arab Spring reflects Karim’s deep involvement in documenting the Arab world.
Ashley Gilbertson’s contribution is a haunting reminder of the toll that post-traumatic stress disorder is taking on American society. Gilbertson has deep experience photographing combat in Iraq; he witnessed PTSD and wrestled with it himself. Halfway around the world in Bolivia, Emmanuel Santos’s piece draws on his 15-year project documenting Bolivia’s underground Jewish community, whose members have been hiding their identity and practicing in secret since the Spanish Inquisition. From another continent, in Benin, comes Lori Grinker’s lovely minimalist portrait from her 20-year project Afterwar, which investigates the legacy of conflict once the guns fall silent.
Strength, hope and possibility also emerge, especially in Platon’s portrait of Burmese democracy advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Stories from elections in South Sudan, India, Uganda, Peru and Liberia speak to the desire for political inclusion and a say in one’s future. Four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Carol Guzy’s image of a young Sierra Leonean war amputee mimicking the Statue of Liberty captures the concept of hope in all its complexity.
Other photographs speak to quieter moments that occur out of the headlines but highlight truths that scream for attention: Finbarr O’Reilly’s story of domestic abuse in South Africa and GMB Akash’s piece on young female sex workers in Bangladesh.
Still other contributions are more personal, such as Alan Chin’s image of his late mother in New York City and the accompanying tale of his immigrant family’s journey to the United States. This echoes Dutch photographer Jan Banning’s contribution from his project, National Identities, in which he stages portraits to mimic classic Dutch paintings, with a twist; white Europeans are replaced by immigrants.
Even some of the most well-known images have surprising new layers. Barbara Davidson chose an image from her 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning story on American gang violence. She tells us how, after Tim and Chris died, she felt like one of the mourners in her own photograph.
Photographers rarely have so much liberty to select images for publication and to describe their relationship to those images. Editors usually choose what is published, and as a result the public never sees some of the images that are most meaningful to the photographers who made them. This project is a rare opportunity to show the world new work, such as Andrew Testa’s revealing portrait of Tony Blair and Elizabeth Dalziel’s intimate picture of a Palestinian family trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in their living room as a gun battle rages outside.
The generosity of these contributors, who donated all their work, made this possible. They worked on this project despite schedules that would make the most experienced travel agent’s head spin. They did so because they believe in the importance of this ongoing conversation about a more just and equitable world, and because they share a strong impulse to honor Tim and Chris. They have made this a meaningful and proactive tribute of consequence. I am so very grateful to each of them.
Each of these stories is about a certain truth, and how it relates to our most basic values: fairness, dignity, right and wrong. That wasn’t my intention when I began this project, but it makes sense in hindsight. Our understanding of social justice and human liberty so often derives from our conception of truth.
The honesty in these photographs binds them together. These photographers engage the world with passion and curiosity, just as Tim and Chris did. As the visual chroniclers of our time, this is their mandate. As engaged citizens, it is also ours.
Benjamin J. Spatz is a Truman National Security Fellow and participates in the Make US Strong campaign to preserve United States international development aid. His prior experience includes serving as Special Advisor to the Government of Liberia, working in Darfur, Sudan, with the relief and development organization, CHF International, consulting with the global political risk advisory firm Eurasia Group, and working with the United Nations Mission in Liberia. His photographs have been recognized by Pictures of the Year International and the National Press Photographers Association.