Moments of Unexpected Beauty: Alissa Everett

“Photography [is] a way to create an emotional connection.”

Featured work: Images from the Ukrainian border and Poland, March 2022

Veteran visual documentarian Alissa Everett has photographed human cultures and conflicts and their diverse manifestations in Ukraine, Iraq, Darfur, Gaza, South Sudan, Afghanistan, DR Congo and many other areas. With a focus on the under-told aspects of large-scale events, Everett hones in on personal narratives and pivotal moments of connection. “Some of my strongest impressions in challenging locations were times when families opened their doors to me. In Iraq, during the height of the invasion, an Iraqi family found out it was my birthday. They baked me a cake, and every member of the family bought me small gifts, despite having virtually nothing,” the California-born, Kenya-based artist and journalist said.

Everett captures intimate human visages at moments of intense change, including forced migration, and documents our adaptations to the myriad, often violent landscapes of war-filled and post-conflict environments. For two decades, she has spent time with people in more than 130 countries, in homes and on street corners, in transportation hubs and along borders, photographing their pauses and embraces; their losses, journeys, rituals and humor; and, perhaps most pervasively, their strength and love. Ask Artists interviewed Everett on the heels of her work on the Ukrainian border with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and in the midst of her solo show “Covering Beauty” which is part of the sixth edition of “Personal Structures” at the European Cultural Centre, taking place during the 59th Venice Biennale and extending from April until November, 2022.

More featured works:

5 Questions for the Artist:

1. What is photography to you?

I started my professional career as a freelance conflict-zone photographer, filing images from Iraq that met the demands of the media editors. There are so many brave war correspondents whose work provides essential information from the front. However, for me, photography has other opportunities to create emotional connection. From the first images I saw by Ansel Adams portraying the nature of my state of California, or John Dominis’ images of the overlooked poverty in America’s Appalachians, I saw that there was a role for showing nature’s beauty and capturing your subjects with their dignity to tell more than just the immediate news capturing headlines. Photography, regardless of my subject, how tough or how sensitive, is for me a way to create an emotional connection.

2. What did you make in the past, and why?

My journey in photography has also been a personal journey. It’s been a search for what I want to say about the world and how to say it. Much of my early photojournalism work was made for clients, either media or humanitarian organizations, building a career out of a passion for human rights and the art of photography, as well as exploring the world. I couldn’t afford to get to the incredible places I reached without supportive clients, and fantastic editors backing my work. While on assignment, I often made personal images that spoke to me, ones of moments of unexpected beauty. The images I made taught me everything I know about the world and the humanity of people in it, from my subjects to the brave people in the field dedicating their lives to make the world a better place.

3. What are you making now, and why?

In the past several years, while continuing work with large and small UN and NGO clients, I’ve focused on areas of post conflict, displaced populations and impacts of climate change. At the same time, I am increasing focused on pushing the limits of my art in these same locations. When a collector sees the bravery and power in a portrait of a Congolese woman, and puts it on their wall, I feel that I have, almost subversively, worked with my subject to get their message out. And of course, a percentage of the sales funds my non-profit, Exposing Hope, which tangibly given to projects to support survivors of human rights abuses.

4. What are your hopes for the future?

Showing in Venice gave me a chance to process many images I had not taken time to sit with. Then, the war in Ukraine gave me a reminder of the importance of covering all sides of difficult issues. It leaves me torn between the photojournalistic parts of my career and the art exhibition side. I know I will never be just one or the other: the issues seem too urgent to me to not be covering them as a photojournalist; but equally my desire to show the best sides of humanity and our planet will always mean I make art.

5. What else would you like to say?

It seems the right time to repeat the lines from “Give Peace a Chance.” The song by that name was written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono and amazingly Yoko was previously an exhibitor at the same venue I am honored to have my show. I pinch myself that I can show my work, the images of the brave people I have photographed, in Venice. But I also feel incredibly heavy that war and its innate brutality is so close to us at this time.

Artist Supplied Bio:

Photographer Alissa Everett has been working for two decades to document social issues, remote locations and indigenous cultures in more than 130 countries on six continents. Since 2003, she has covered humanitarian issues in Iraq, Darfur, Gaza, South Sudan, Afghanistan and DR Congo, to name a few.

Everett’s work has been recognized by the International Photography Awards, Sony World Photography Awards, Siena Photo Awards, Gordon Parks Photo Awards, Photography Open Salon Arles and the International Women’s Media Foundation. Her work has been exhibited at Les Rencontres d’Arles, the Farmani Gallery, the National Museum of Women, the Setai, Project One Gallery, Left Space Studios and DogPatch Studios. She received a BA in Political Science and International Relations from UCLA, served in the Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa, and worked for three years as an investment banker with Robertson Stephens in San Francisco, CA. She speaks French, Spanish, and Wolof. In 2007 Alissa founded the nonprofit Exposing Hope to raise awareness and funds for victims of human rights abuses worldwide through documentary photography.

Find more of Alissa Everett’s work on Instagram and Twitter.

The Ask Artists interview series features all forms of creative expression.

Julia Travers

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Ask Artists with Julia Travers

Ask Artists with Julia Travers

I’m a writer and artist who runs the Ask Artists interview series. Find interviews here along with other stories.