Finding Beauty in the Ugly

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Pakistan, 1983; photo credit: John Isaac

Finding beauty in the ugly: child weavers in debt bondage in Pakistan. Photograph by John Isaac, former UN Chief Photographer — under no less than five Secretaries-General. Thank you Uncle for the perfect gift and ending to my year at the UN covering human trafficking. One of my favorite stories from his career: “Throughout his career, there have been many moments when John declined to take a photo. One of the earliest came in 1979, when he was on assignment in southern Thailand and came across a 13-year-old Vietnamese girl who’d been raped by pirates. “She was staring at the water, and wouldn’t look at anyone,” he recalls. Rather than raising his camera, John jumped in his Jeep, went to his hotel and picked up some chocolate and a tape recorder. “I’d taped some beautiful Vietnamese music and I sat next to her and played it. I held out the chocolate. After about 20 minutes, she took a piece.” Back in New York, he was laughed at by colleagues who told him he’d never succeed with such a soft heart—but he doesn’t regret his decision. “To me, it was worth more than all the pictures I could take.”

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