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Humanitarian-journalists talk about advocacy, women in photography

January 17th, 2013 Posted in Opinion

LOGAN—Lynn Johnson, a veteran National Geographic photojournalist who came to Utah State Wednesday to talk about her “advocacy journalism” efforts to benefit humanitarian causes in India, also talked to AggieTV News about women in photojournalism. Click here.

AggieTV News video by Chris Garff and Brian Champagne.

Johnson and her humanitarian-activist-writer colleague Jen Saffron, came to USU to report on their project to help the survivors of religious violence in eastern India. Their lecture, “Building Bridges: When Journalism and Activism Meet,” was illustrated by Johnson’s moving images of men, women and children, whose entire village had been burned to the ground.

When journalism, art and activism work together to tell powerful stories and raise public awareness, great things can happen, Saffron and Johnson said.


This young man did not escape the night his village was attacked. Strapped to a log, he was beaten for more than 8 hours, photographer Lynn Johnson says.

In 2008, some 3,000 extremist Hindus attacked the village of 800 residents, driving the men into the surrounding forest and attacking women and children who had not escaped. The extremists sought a return to the ancient social caste system.

Johnson said her 35-year career as a photojournalist, covering a manner of human suffering, somehow had not prepared her for a National Geographic assignment to document the plight of the former residents of a predominantly Christian village in India’s Odisha state. The survivors of the attack have been relocated to ramshackle buildings on the outskirts of the town of Koraput.

“I had never been so moved,” she said. “I’d been doing this for 35 or 40 years and I thought, ‘My God, I’ve done nothing and I’m almost 60 years old.’”

After returning to the United States and her photo shoot, Johnson contacted Saffron, a well known activist and photo documentarian, who told Johnson she had been “called” to do more than observe as a detached photojournalist. The two women spend much of their time working to raise support for the “Koraput survivors.”

Saffron and Johnson directed much of their USU presentation to aspiring journalists and humanitarians, urging them to look beyond the “arms length” perspective so common in much of the world’s journalism, writes JCOM alumnus Matthew Jensen in his Logan Herald Journal story on the pair’s visit to Logan.

The presentation was sponsored by the USU Caine College of the Arts and the Department of Journalism & Communication’s Morris Media & Society Lecture Series.


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