DPP Home Profiles Karen Ballard - A Life Of Adventure

Monday, January 7, 2008

Karen Ballard - A Life Of Adventure

Photographer Karen Ballard has been at the very center of modern history, and she has the pictures to prove it. Her work has been defined by a passion for life.

When Ballard was accompanying former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to the fresh remains of the World Trade Center right after 9/11, she knew that she was looking for something above and beyond photo ops. Ballard was looking for an image that would capture the weight of the situation and the pressure and intensity that Rumsfeld was under. The series of images that resulted portrayed exactly that—an undeniably strong character during a trying time.

Skirting the sensitive line between the delicate sensibilities of powerful personalities, a press dedicated to non-biased documentary and the public's greed for gossip is like being drawn and quartered artistically. Ballard is incredibly successful at what she does, and she also has been able to gain the trust of her subjects, securing her passage into realms not usually open to the press.

When asked about what has led to this acceptance and trust, Ballard says, “A sense of humor around my subjects and total discretion is essential. The people I photograph know that I'm not going to run out and tell anyone what I've heard ‘in the room.' It's the stock and trade of the inside shooter and essential to getting access. A number of the people I've photographed have been some of the key characters engaged in making the world go around. Documenting them is my job, and I try to do that without being judgmental.

“I'd love to think of what I do as ‘jet-setting,'” she continues, “but it's more pragmatic and less glamorous than that. I've been fulfilled, at least in part, as a journalist because I've been able to chronicle such an important part of our history.”

In 2004, Ballard was on a sixth trip to Baghdad when she found herself chosen to be the only member of the civilian press corps to take the very first images of Saddam Hussein since his capture by U.S. forces. When she had heard that Hussein was going to make an appearance before the Iraqi Special Tribunal, Ballard took a shot and sacrificed her return ticket to the States. It was a shot that paid off. Her images of Hussein ran worldwide.

“That day was certainly one of the most intense moments in world news I've been privy to,” she says, “and I'm glad to have pulled it off.”

Extreme Photography
When reading Ballard's résumé, one would assume that she has a bit of a taste for danger. She has been close to front lines, has been blown from her bed by nearby car bombs and mortar shells, and has traveled at the side of Paul Bremer, former Director of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, probably the highest-profile target possible in post-Hussein Iraq.

“In those war zones, anyone is a target,” she says. “I try to be as smart and calculating as possible about the risks I take. I'm not a combat photographer, even though I've been in war zones and in some extremely dangerous places. I have incredible respect for those photographers who put their lives on the line every day to get images that affect us all, but I don't consider myself one of them. My favorite place to photograph in the world is where there's beautiful light and where, at the end of the day, I can walk down the street without fear of being kidnapped or caught in a crossfire.

“Originally, I moved to D.C. because I wanted to shoot for National Geographic, and even though I've had a few assignments for them, the majority of my work has been for other publications and as a unit photographer in the movie business. When I was in high school, my older brother, who had moved to California, mailed me a camera when he heard I had signed up for a photography course. After that, I paid more attention to photographs in The Louisville Courier-Journal Sunday Magazine and the stories behind the pictures.

“Even though I flipped back and forth between the Fine Arts School and the School of Journalism, photojournalism was the stronger pull. I landed a summer internship at the White House that began my journey into Washington politics and journalism on a national scale. I also interned at The Louisville Courier-Journal, The Eugene Register-Guard and The Washington Post. Not too long after, I was offered a job as a staff photographer for The Washington Times, where I worked for six years before going freelance.”


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