| Home | Interview with Carol Guzy -- January 2002
September 21, 2014

Carol Guzy, 44, is a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer with The Washington Post. Guzy originally studied to be a nurse, but changed her mind after taking a class in photojournalism. She received her most recent Pulitzer in 2000 for photographs of Kosovo refugees, a second in 1995 for her portrayal of the U.S. intervention in Haiti, and her first in 1986 for her work during a mudslide in Colombia for The Miami Herald. Guzy graduated from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in 1980, and got her first job with the Miami Herald after doing an internship. She spent eight years at the Herald and then joined The Washington Post in 1988. In 1990, Guzy was the first woman to receive the Newspaper Photographer of the Year Award, presented by the National Press Photographers Association. Guzy's work has taken her around the world to places like Haiti, Somalia and India. She spoke with about the art of taking pictures.

New York City -- Sept. 2001. You got a degree in nursing first before you got into photojournalism. What made you want to become a photojournalist?

Carol Guzy: I have a great deal of respect for nursing and believe the training may have instilled in me a level of empathy and compassion that would not be as deep otherwise. However, it did not feel like a good fit for a career. Though I did not work as a nurse, the degree gave me a sense of freedom to take a risk with photography. I had wanted to pursue a career in art after high school but thought it impractical. A friend gave me a camera and I took a black and white photo course while in nursing school. When the first print came up in the tray it was quite magical. I was hooked. I believe life pushes you down the path you are meant to take. It still surprises me that this is where I am, but it is without a doubt the perfect niche. It's not just a job. It's a life choice. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Did you get a chance to photograph any of the carnage in New York after Sept. 11th? What did you think?

Carol Guzy: I've spent a good deal of time in New York since the terrorist attacks, mostly photographing the effect on firefighters who had so many fallen brothers. Like most of America, I have been profoundly saddened by this kind of evil. I've photographed many natural disasters which are devastating in scope but this is destruction wrought by our own species on so many innocent non-combatants. I still wake up hoping it was all a nightmare.

Woman trampled to death in Haiti -- 1995 Your pictures have captured the civil war in Rwanda, the installment of a new president in Haiti, and the plight of the Kosovo refugees. Why are you drawn to assignments in areas of conflict?

Carol Guzy: My focus has been on the humanitarian impact of conflict. I document the horror and insanity of it -- though our species does not seem to learn from the past. I suppose my primary role is to open the eyes of readers to the great needs of the innocents involved. Emotionally, it must be very taxing to photograph tradegies like men being beaten to death and children dying of malnutrition. How do keep your emotions in check and still do your work?

Carol Guzy: It has indeed been difficult. We are all human first and it's impossible not to feel very deep emotion when witnessing these things. In order to do the job, however, it's necessary to put those emotions on hold for the moment just as medics, firefighters, etc. It's the aftershocks that can tear you apart. I try to caution young photographers to deal with their feelings at the time because if you repress them and let them fester it can be very troubling. I had a meltdown at one point in my life that was quite devastating. There were a variety of reasons for it but a large part was due to the memories of so much strife and death.

A returning Kosovo Albanian refugee shrieks with grief at the
funeral of her uncle, whose body was found in a mass
grave -- 2000. Have you ever feared for your life in these war zones?

Carol Guzy: I'm not in the trenches. I concentrate on the human condition inflicted by war -- though simply being in these hotspots can be dangerous. It's easy for a spark to ignite in such volatile situations. Yes, I have been afraid at times. Some of your subjects are on the edge of death. Do you ever feel like you're exploiting them by taking their picture? Do you try to get their consent?

Carol Guzy: It's a fine line we ride. I believe we do a great service for folks in these dire situations by bringing world attention to their desperation. We are at times their only voice. However, it is unfortunately perceived by the public that we are exploiting them. There are "photo police" who insist I should not be taking pictures even when it is clear the subject is comfortable with it -- and I firmly believe that choice should lie with the subject. I still hesitate after all these years to take a person's picture without some form of consent. That could simply be eye contact or body language that says it's ok. Most times I am humbled by the grace with which people handle their own mortality. How do you capture a moment without altering it with your presence?

Guards protecting a man from angry mob in Haiti -- 1995
Carol Guzy: A camera certainly alters a situation initially. It can be intrusive and unnerving. It's important for people to see beyond the camera. I'm fairly quiet and after awhile tend to blend in with the woodwork and folks forget about the equipment. The most critical element is spending time. Because of increased competition -- on the web and in print -- is there a trend in photojournalism to publish more tragic moments to increase readership?

Carol Guzy: I sincerely hope that is not the case. I work for a respected publication where editors weigh decisions of what to print with great care and sensitivity. People have a right to know the reality of any tragedy but also need balance in our coverage. Which do you prefer -- feature photography or spot news?

Carol Guzy: Both are important in their own respects. I suppose my strength is in the more long term feature stories. The Washington Post sent Lois Raimondo and Lucian Perkins to Afghanistan and Pakistan to cover the war. Did you want to go as well, considering you've covered most of the major conflicts in the world in the past 15 years?

Fall of the Berlin Wall -- 1989
Carol Guzy: I was packed with a visa for Pakistan, the goal being to enter Afghanistan into Kandahar as Lois and Lucian were with the Northern Alliance. The decision to go kept changing along with the rapidly changing events in the region. I had conflicting emotions about it. It was such an important event in our history and I wanted to document it but had an uncomfortable gut feeling. I would have gone but did not argue the decision to cancel the trip. I've learned to trust my gut. Our photographers did such an incredible job that I didn't feel I would have contributed something very different to our news coverage by the time I arrived. Which photo or series of photos that you took has had the most impact politically?

Carol Guzy: That is a hard thing to measure. I would hope that all the years of coverage in Haiti had impact since that has been the story closest to my own heart.

Copyright © 2001, Inc. All rights reserved.

Other interviews:
  • Roger Cohn, editor, Mother Jones Magazine -- December 2001
  • Mike Luckovich, cartoonist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- November 2001
  • Lisa Chamberlain, editor-in-chief, Cleveland Free Times -- October 2001
  • Ben Fong-Torres, former reporter and editor, Rolling Stone magazine -- October 2001
  • Raul Ramirez, news director, KQED Radio -- September 2001
  • James Daly, former founder and editor, Business 2.0 Magazine -- August 2001
  • James Fallows, correspondent, The Atlantic Monthly -- July 2001
  • David Ignatius, executive editor, International Herald Tribune -- July 2001
  • David Talbot, founder and editor, -- June 2001
  • Ed Fouhy, former CBS, ABC and NBC news executive -- June 2001
  • Linda Cohn, anchor/reporter, ESPN -- May 2001
  • Sol Levine, former producer, CNN -- April 2001
  • Charlie LeDuff, reporter, New York Times -- March 2001
  • Pierre Thomas, correspondent, ABC News -- March 2001
  • Gene Roberts, former managing editor, New York Times -- February 2001
  • Sydnie Kohara, anchor, -- January 2001
  • Lowell Bergman, former producer, 60 Minutes -- January 2001
  • Joie Chen, anchor, CNN -- December 2000
  • David Plotz, Washington Bureau Chief, -- November 2000
  • Christopher John Farley, senior writer and pop music critic, Time Magazine -- October 2000
  • Bob Edwards, news anchor, National Public Radio -- October 2000
  • Sharon Epperson, CNBC correspondent -- September 2000
  • David Maraniss, reporter, The Washington Post -- April 2000
  • Wolf Blitzer, anchor, CNN -- March 2000