“The photograph is really just an excuse for the experience,” says Catherine Karnow, an American photographer with National Geographic. “Getting out and learning stories, showing emotions; that’s what I want to show in my photographs.”
In 2010, the opportunity came to join a project which allowed Catherine to take photographs of families with children who suffer from disabilities caused by Agent Orange, the toxic herbicide dropped on Vietnam during the American War.
It allowed her to highlight the difference between two families; one was well supported, while the other was shunned and not helped in any way.
“Both families had moments of happiness,” explains Catherine, “but one had money for nutrition, funds to build a better roof and so on.”
The difference is hard to ignore. The little girl, Nguyen Thi Ly, looks healthy and strong. She can be seen playing physically demanding games or sitting on the back of a bicycle. Her family received support from the NGO, Children of Vietnam.
At the time, however, The Tan family, received no such support. The two boys, Tri and Hau, look malnourished, need a wheelchair and help with simple tasks like washing and moving around.
However, by showing these children in their moments of happiness, Catherine has captured their humanity. Their daily lives, similar to ours in many ways, show them as people; not objects of curiosity.
“I didn’t want to make these photos about me,” Catherine says. “Making clever artsy photos or showing how utterly deformed they are in a shocking and sensational way doesn’t make the right impact.”
The impact Catherine has made has already gone a long way. She’s raised thousands of dollars in donations and brought massive awareness to the families she has met, listened to and photographed.
The biggest impact, perhaps, is one less seen.
“Photography makes these people feel like somebody is paying more attention to them,” Catherine says. “It affirms their existence, and makes them feel like they matter.”
Photos by Catherine Karnow