DE PERE — Lisa Kristine was 11 when her aunt and uncle gave her an Olympus 35mm camera. From a converted darkroom in her home in California, she developed black and white film and printed images of family and friends.
“They weren’t the typical ‘everybody say cheese’ images,” said Kristine. Even then, her photos had depth and emotion. “They were definitely more about solitude and looking for the infinity in somebody.”
It is this creative, photographic eye and a deep fascination with people that has taken Kristine around the world photographing indigenous people in remote locations. It is also these two traits that launched a new mission in her work: humanitarian photographer who captures images of modern slavery.
Kristine’s work to expose global human trafficking led to her invitation at a ceremony Dec. 2, 2014, at the Vatican. Held on the U.N. Day for the Abolition of Slavery, Kristine witnessed 12 religious leaders, including Pope Francis, sign a pledge to help end modern slavery in the world by 2020.
On March 1, Kristine was guest lecturer at St. Norbert College. Her address, “The Faces of Modern-Day Slavery,” was part of the Norman and Louis Miller Lecture in Public Understanding series. A photography exhibition, “Enslaved: A Visual Story of Modern-Day Slavery” was also unveiled. The exhibit is free and open to the public at the Baer Gallery, located at the college’s Bush Art Center, until April 1.
In an interview with The Compass, Kristine said her fascination with different cultures launched a career in humanitarian photography. She has traveled to more than 100 countries on six continents capturing images of people from indigenous cultures.
“Initially it was to go out and learn from these people, who I felt had such a rich history, to see what it was that brought them meaning,” she said. “That’s always been a huge curiosity to me.”
Through her work, Kristine was invited to exhibit photographs at the Vancouver Peace Summit in 2009. “It was there that I learned about human slavery,” she said.
“I knew … there was some trafficking, but then when I learned there are 30-plus million people, I was so taken aback,” said Kristine. She began a relationship with Free the Slaves, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Washington, D.C. It led her to places like India, Ghana and Nepal, where she has photographed children, women and families who are modern-day slaves working as fishermen, gold miners, quarry laborers and prostitutes.
“That entire body of work is specifically intended to raise awareness about (human slavery), to raise funding and to help groups eradicate it,” said Kristine. “People often ask me, ‘How can I help? I really want to go out there and volunteer in the field.’ But it’s really not a simple thing to liberate people. I’m in it constantly and I don’t have the wherewithal to do it. There are experts who know how to do it and I’m just about really supporting them to do their work.”
During her presentation to some 500 people at the Walter Theatre, Kristine shared many of her images, projected onto a large screen, of people living as slaves.
“Every day I think of these people,” she told the audience. “People who I’ve had the tremendous honor of meeting. I want to shine a light on slavery and I want all of you to find it in yourselves to make a difference.”
She also stated that human slavery is not limited to developing countries. One of her projects was photographing young women caught in sex trafficking in Washington, D.C. Working with Courtney’s House, an agency that searches and rescues children caught in domestic sex trafficking, she learned that young girls under 18 “have endured such grave tragedies of being raped over and over again.”
Kristine told The Compass that she has not worked directly with religious communities in the fight against human slavery, but she encouraged them, especially local women religious in the Diocese of Green Bay, to continue their awareness campaign.
“The fascinating and frightening thing to me about slavery is that, all of this time, it’s been existing right in front of us without us knowing,” she said. “It’s sort of hidden in plain sight because the idea is that it doesn’t exist. … There are signs and I think that the more we become aware of them, the greater the propensity we have to change the situation.”
Among those attending the lecture was Sr. Celine Goessl of St. John the Baptist Parish in Howard. She is active in promoting awareness of human trafficking.
“I was heartened to see so many young people at Lisa’s presentation,” she said. “She spoke primarily of labor trafficking and that was superb because most of our presentations in this area centered on sex trafficking.”
Sr. Celine, a Sister of Mercy of the Holy Cross, said she hoped that young people who attended the lecture catch Kristine’s passion for the cause “and will take the flame and carry it into their own neighborhoods.”
Kristine said being part of the Vatican gathering in 2014 was an honor.
“If you could imagine, when I started this in 2009, not only was I not significantly aware, but nobody was aware. Organizations couldn’t get funding because people didn’t believe it existed,” she said. “To see now, faith leaders (seeking to eradicate human slavery by 2020), it’s unbelievable.”
The “coolest thing” about the Vatican meeting, she added, was seeing people from all different faiths “that sometimes have conflict but were together in total unison and motivation to end slavery.”
“I just sat there the whole time and wept,” she added. “It was just so moving.”
Kristine said she has been invited to a follow-up meeting at the Vatican on March 18.
To view images from Kristine’s collection on human trafficking, or to listen to her TED Talk presentation on human slavery, visit lisakristine.com.