Photographer's life work to expose horrors of global human trafficking

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass

By Sam Lucero

DE PERE, Wis. (CNS) — Lisa
Kristine was 11 when her aunt and uncle gave her an Olympus 35 mm 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 those two traits that have 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 in De Pere. Her address, “The Faces of
Modern-Day Slavery,” was part of the Norman and Louis Miller Lecture in
Public Understanding series. A free photography exhibition, “Enslaved: A
Visual Story of Modern-Day Slavery” also was unveiled at the Baer Gallery,
located at the college’s Bush Art Center.

In an interview with The
Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay, Kristine said her fascination
with different cultures launched a career in humanitarian photography. She has
traveled to more than 100 countries in 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 nongovernmental organization based in Washington. It led her to
places such as 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 where-with-all 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. 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
Green Bay Diocese, 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.”

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 March 18.

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Editors: To view images from
Kristine’s collection on human trafficking, or to listen to her TED Talk
presentation on human slavery, visit

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Lucero is the news and
information manager at The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.

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