Geographic Veteran Reflects on Fear Captured in Photographs

Kimberly Ayers
National Geographic Today
September 25, 2001

Fear comes in many forms: The fear of no food in the face of famine. The fear of no home in the face of a war. The fear of death in the face of disease.

Perhaps fear is not just one emotion, but many. The apprehension of a Palestinian boy who wonders if danger is heading his way. The anguish of Ukrainian women fleeing a flood. The chaos of leaving a prosperous life with only what you can carry.

"Fear is this broad word that covers a lot of things, like lack of control, uncertainty, the unknown," says photographer Karen Kasmauski. "I think when we don't know what's ahead of us, we become fearful. If we don't know how things will turn out, we become somewhat fearful."

Kasmauski has taken photographs all over the world for National Geographic—from Burundi to Brazil—and has seen the faces of fear in front of her lens many times.

The feeling Kasmauski says she often has as a journalist in situations of poverty and despair is a desperate appeal for help: "They may not even verbally say it, but they look at you [as if to say], 'Is there something that you can do to get me out of this situation?'"

Fear not only contorts our faces, but twists our hearts, leaving us with a sense that the world has changed and will never be the same—and nor will we.

One thing the September 11 terrorist attack in the United States has taught us is that there is nowhere on Earth where we are immune from the possibility of immense tragedy and paralyzing fear. What we think will never happen sometimes does.

What can transform our fear?

For Kasmauski, it is a deep sense of community. "The connection to community, to family and friends, is really, really important," she says. "The fact that people can draw a community around them and together can have support and go forward—that seems to give people almost extraordinary strength."

"If you have faith that there is a greater spirit out there, a greater meaning to the world other than your own individual self, I think that gives people a lot of strength and perseverance to get through it," she adds.

So often the faces of anguish have come from faraway places. Now the face of tragedy is much closer. We now recognize ourselves.

This article was excerpted from a one-hour special, "The Geography of Crisis," aired by the TV news show National Geographic Today on September 25 at 8 p.m. EST.

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