Liba Taylor is a Czech photographer living in London who specializes in documentary projects for international humanitarian organizations such as UNICEF, UNHCR, Save the Children Fund and many others. For the past twenty years her work has taken her to Africa, Asia and Latin America where she documented the fate of mainly women and children fighting for survival in the midst of war, famine, disease and slavery. Over the years she has won many British and international awards. At the present time there is an exhibition of Mrs Taylor's photographs here in Prague, held under the auspices of the Czech Committee for UNICEF. I went along and was struck by how she'd managed to infuse a ray of light and optimism into the photographs of people whose life is an every day struggle.
"I usually concentrate on the women and children and basically the photographs are of women and children. I start playing with the children and fooling around with them and their mother relax and suddenly there is no problem. They allow me to take pictures and they look at me and smile and even when its in a situation where they are in dire need of help, they are on their knees and they have nothing to eat or they have suffered some terrible fate like the acid attacks they laugh or smile and they are very gentle." A quick glance at the visitor's book shows that Mrs Taylor has received high praise from both Czech and foreign visitors. " You've really touched my soul" says one of the entries. " Thank you for devoting your talent to work that has so much meaning" says another. Many of the messages express admiration for the author's "compassion, tenderness and courage". I asked Mrs. Taylor whether she thinks about the fact that she often works in life-threatening situations.
"No, I don't really. I think the only time I got frightened was in north Uganda where there was a very strange war going on. We were driving in this very old car - I was with a British journalist and a driver - and we had a very old, slow car . We had decided to go and see this burnt-out village which was burnt down the night before. It was only about thirty kilometers but we had been warned that it was dangerous -that if we were attacked we could be killed. Anyway we were driving along in this old car and I thought "this is fine.." but then suddenly I realized that we were on the road by ourselves and there were these very high banks on either side so you couldn't see anything . And it was the longest twenty kilometers in my life because all the time I was waiting for somebody to pounce on us from the banks. Nothing happened, but I was really frightened...."
In 2001 Liba Taylor won the Czech Press Photo Competition for her photographs of child refugees in Sierra Leone. I asked Mrs Taylor to explain how she manages to make a deep and lasting impression on people who have long grown used to seeing violence, death and human suffering on their television screens every evening.
"Well, I think these stories are quite personal. They are about people and these people have names. Also they are very still pictures . Not snapshots of fighting or war photographs. They show people in their normal environment with all the handicaps they have. So I think that they are slightly different . It brings the whole scene closer to people. You could be a fighter in an army, or you could be a girl who had acid thrown at her, or it could be your daughter.... and if people see it in that way they realize that these are normal people who are not fighting for anything. They are just fighting for survival."
That was photographer Liba Taylor, whose exhibition "The Innocents" is open at the Josef Sudek House of Photography / just off the old Town Square/ until mid-July. And if you'd like to hear the full length interview with Mrs. Taylor, tune in to Magazine on July 12th.
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