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Photographer Captures Impact of War on Women, Children


Photographer Marissa Roth has spent nearly 30 years documenting the devastating impact of conflict on women and children.

Her photographs show both the suffering of war and the resilience of the human spirit.

Roth lost family members in the Holocaust, and she is drawn to the stories of Holocaust survivors. She photographed many for the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

The former news photographer was part of the Los Angeles Times team that won a Pulitzer Prize covering the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Her work has also taken her to the edge of war zones. She was working in Pakistan when a suggestion by a colleague started her journey.

“She said, 'You know, there's a story nobody cares about.' This was towards the end of the 10-year war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan," Roth said. "And she said, 'There are 100,000 Afghan war widows, and nobody cares.' And I thought, 'Well, I care.'”

Her passion for the subject would lead to a Kosovar refugee camp in Albania, and to Japan to meet survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. She has created a photo exhibit of images from 12 conflicts.

In Northern Ireland, she photographed a former bomber-turned-peace activist, and a woman who lost her husband to the sectarian violence who offered Roth an insight.

“She said, 'I bet you find women are the same everywhere.' And so I learned a lot from my subjects, because I thought, 'Wow, she's really right,'" Roth said. "And I think the constants are the absolute fundamentals of life. It's keeping home and hearth and keeping children healthy and safe, keeping families together.”

From the Balkans to Pakistan and Southeast Asia, Roth has shown the scars of war, including victims and survivors of the Khmer Rouge brutality in Cambodia and Vietnamese children born with birth defects caused by the defoliant Agent Orange. She also shows the grief of an American mother holding a portrait of her son, a Marine who died in Iraq.

Roth says that amid the sadness, the character of the survivors has impressed her.

“That the human spirit is pretty remarkable and that in spite of war and madness and destruction, that people get on with their lives,” she said.

Roth's most recent work has again taken her halfway around the world, this time to document an endangered culture. She is publishing a book of photographs of Tibet, highlighting its Buddhist religion, its art and people.

Her exhibit, "One Person Crying: Women and War," was on display recently in Oradour-sur-Glane, France, the site of a massacre by German troops during World War II. The exhibit will open in June at a veterans memorial park in the U.S. state of Wisconsin.
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