Picture This: Women and War
By Mary Daily
Published Apr 1, 2013 8:00 AM
"I found my peace through war," says Marissa Roth '79, who recently completed a 28-year exploration of how war impacts women. The award-winning photojournalist's journey took her to Yugoslavia, France, Germany, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, the Philippines, Kosovo, Japan, Cambodia, Bosnia and Vietnam.
A crowning moment came when Roth, the daughter of Hungarian refugees from the Holocaust, discovered her grandparents' names on a memorial in Yugoslavia, where they were massacred on their own doorstep in 1942. Her quest was ignited in Pakistan in 1988 when Roth, on a freelance assignment for the Los Angeles Times, learned that 100,000 Afghan war widows had been all but forgotten.
She found the refugee camps where the widows lived and visited them alone, without a translator. "I just smiled and showed them my camera," she says. "It was the purest creative time I'd ever experienced, the most sustained time of incredible emotion."
Roth "entered a tunnel" that led her to war-ravaged countries all over the world to capture images of female survivors, to "read the story of war through their faces. I was possessed," she says. What she learned is that "war shows up men's weaknesses and women's strengths. Natural caretakers, women pick up the pieces."
Roth's quest is chronicled in an exhibition, One Person Crying: Women and War, which debuted in 2012 at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The museum also commissioned her to photograph Holocaust survivors who volunteer there, and a collection of those portraits, titled "Witness to Truth," is on permanent display.
Photography was an early passion for Roth, who took over her mother's Kodak Instamatic when she was 10. She perfected her art as a photographer for the Daily Bruin and, after graduation, as an apprentice for UCLA Theater, Film and Television Professor Lou Stoumen, who had been a war photographer.
Her professional career began in Hollywood, covering celebrity events. In 2000, the Los Angeles Public Library commissioned her to capture images of downtown L.A. as a "neighborhood," resulting in an exhibition and book titled Real City: Downtown Los Angeles Inside/Out.
But the women and war work became like "an invisible engine driving me. I surrendered to it," she says. "Now [at last], I know who I am."