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 Advocate for the Unlettered, by Dale Smith.

 

By the time she was 19, Jackie Bell knew she would become an international photojournalist. Never mind that the University of Michigan, where she was studying Spanish, didn't offer a single class in news photography, much less an academic major in the subject.

Photography by Jackie Bell."I ended up doing a lot of independent study -- not journalism per se, but photo courses," says Bell, now 44 and an assistant professor of journalism at MU. After graduation she packed up her modest portfolio, along with a couple of Canon SLRs and a trunk full of darkroom gear, and boarded a plane for Israel. A few weeks later she was shooting professionally.

Such pluck is characteristic of Bell, who eventually returned to the United States for more formal training at Ohio University. Over the next 20 years her work, often shot on assignment under harrowing circumstances, has taken newspaper readers to places many might just as soon have avoided. Prisons and massacre sites, poverty-stricken villages and storm-tossed seas: these and other subjects Bell depicted with an affecting mix of empathy and exuberance, deftly employing camera and film to force readers' minds into focus.

Jackie Bell.Bell's most recent work includes an ongoing project, Blurring the Lines: Indigenous Cultures of Latin America. The book-length project brings together images and narrative vignettes drawn from Bell's extensive travel in the region, a part of the world for which she shares a deep affinity. She hopes to publish Blurring the Lines soon.

In the meantime, Bell says, she is content helping young photojournalists develop their own sense of affinity. "It's a huge responsibility doing what we do. People let us into their lives, they open themselves up to us, they trust us. I tell my students that I never expect someone to say, 'No, you can't take my picture.' But when I am allowed to take those pictures, photos of the sacred, important things in people's lives, I had better be trustworthy."

You can view additional photographs by Jackie Bell, and listen to her describing the images presented here.

       
     
       
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