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EPF 2011 Finalist
23º, Far from Paradise
23º of latitude separate the Equator from the Northern tropic. These latitudes are home to beaches, palms, vacation resorts, idyllic paradise — and poverty.
This is where the sun bares countless dark and desperate lives. This is where the unfortunate location of birth often condemns people to a life of struggle in an unforgiving land, beset with drought and flood, famine and tempest.
Conversely, this is where hope and resilience coexist with tribulation. For the poor, there is a duality to life. In each person, each moment holds joy and pain, a mourning for what is lost and a yearning for what may be. These lands represent a dream holiday to tourists, but they are only an elusive fantasy to millions of residents still hoping for the reality of paradise to become theirs.
I have documented the lives of the poor in the Caribbean and Latin America for a decade. The people I meet struggle, strive, hope, dream, live and die in those 23º. While this region is only one part of the globe, the lives of turmoil and legacies of hope within it are emblematic of people around the world who suffer at the same latitudes. Their lives are separated by a chasm of degrees, in contrast to those living in developed nations to the north and south.
This work in progress seeks to illuminate this intersection of geographic lines with circumstance of birth and how the irony of being poor in paradise creates strength, resilience and a duality of spirit. I believe the broad view of the panoramic format, combined with an often intimate perspective, creates a novel way to explore the relationship between the land and those who must scrape together an existence from it.
To continue this work, I will return to Haiti, where the seismic shifts to land, culture, economy and politics since the 2010 earthquake have made the nation’s story even more poignant to this tale. I also plan to return to violence-plagued Guatemala and to Guyana, a country in a decades-long state of decline.
Benjamin Rusnak is a humanitarian photojournalist. He has documented poverty in the Caribbean and Latin America since 2000 as staff photographer for Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief agencies in the United States, based in Coconut Creek, FL. He brought a decade of newspaper experience to telling the stories of those in need in the developing world.
His work has been recognized by Pictures of the Year International, the Best of Photojournalism, the International Photography Awards, the New York Photo Awards, Photo District News, the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, the Alexia Foundation and the China International Press Photo Contest. In 2008, Rusnak won the prestigious Gordon Parks Award. In 2009, his exhibition of Dreams & Tempests premiered as part of the citywide festival, Atlanta Celebrates Photography and has traveled to California (The KONA Gallery), Washington, D.C., and Florida. ZUMA Press represents his editorial work, and zReportage.com and DOUBLEtruck Magazine often feature his essays. He was awarded InterAction’s Effective Assistance Humanitarian Photography Award in 2010.