Unveiling slavery

American humanitarian photographer Lisa Kristine discusses her work over the past 30 years documenting indigenous cultures and social issues such as modern slavery.

News | 24 July 2018
© Lisa Kristine
The American humanitarian photographer and 50 for freedom supporter Lisa Kristine sat down with John Dombkins from the International Labour Organization, during the IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour, Buenos Aires

John Dombkins: Why did you decide to shine a light on modern slavery and child labour?

Lisa Kristine: I’ve been documenting humanity around the world with a notion of dignity and beauty for more than thirty years in a hundred plus countries on six continents. In 2009,  I was at the World Peace Conference with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other Nobel laureates and it was there that it was presented to me within a conversation that slavery existed. I was so struck by it, especially because my entire occupation is on observing others and yet I had not seen it. I think the one thing about child labour and slavery is that it can often be hidden in plain sight. So I decided to take on documenting it in order to shine a light, so people around the world could really see that it exists. Because seeing is believing. Once we see it, we can actually choose to do something about it.

JD: Are you shocked by the images you capture sometimes?

LK: I am very shocked by what I see. Sometimes I see very atrocious and heartfelt desperate things and when I arrive into that situation I sort of let all my fear fall away because I just really want to help those people and be some sort of beacon to share their story. So it is shocking but on another hand, I have to do it. I don’t ever feel that it is a choice. It feels like a calling that if I weren’t doing it, I would find it hard to sleep.

JD: When we look at your work on modern slavery and child labour we feel a connection to the people on the photos. What do you feel when you meet those people who often are suffering from very harsh conditions? Is it hard for you to walk away once you’ve captured it?

LK: When I come into the presence of other persons who are in such a difficult position, I have a very little time to work, and so I feel like I just open my heart in those moments to be present with them. What I know is that no matter how difficult their experience is, their house is dignity and that’s what I am interested in photographing. It is hard to walk away and yet we all have our skills and talent. When I took on this project, in fact, I was under restrictions, what I could and couldn’t do. I was there to do what I do best, which is documenting people. I had to trust the fine abolitionists on the ground to do what they do best, which is liberating people.

JD: You’ve been supporting the 50FF campaign and the  Sustainable Development Goals Alliance 8.7 by providing your photos and being an advocate. Why is it important to be part of these activities?

LK: The beauty of 8.7 and 50FF is that they have the power to do a lot to change things in the world regarding modern slavery and child labour. The reason that  I made these photos is to usher up help and to collaborate with people that are strong,  in the endeavour of ending these atrocities. I am all game and I can’t think of a finer thing. It means a lot to me.

© Lisa Kristine
JD: It’s inspirational. How do you think artists can contribute to eradicating slavery?

LK: I tend to believe that everybody can offer something within their group of talents to help with modern slavery. Certainly for any artist to share work that would create conversation around slavery or urge somebody with that in the eighteen hundreds and perhaps there was a little bit of trafficking but that’s all.

Once I started delving into learning, it made a difference to me very instantly. That’s what I hope my photographs will do for others.

JD:  What sort of camera and lenses do you like to use?

LK: Interestingly the larger body of my work is made almost exclusively with a 19th-century view camera, a field camera, wherein I have a big large piece of transparency film that I have to put in just to make one exposure. When I took on this work of documenting modern slavery I had to downsize, to be agile and spontaneous, and be able to work quickly, so I worked with 35mm. It was a different experience but with a wonderful outcome.

JD: Would you ever consider using a drone?

LK: Who knows, that’s more motion photography. Yes, absolutely! I love the work of drones and it’s beautiful stuff.