Francine Orr: The Listening Comes First

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This is what Francine Orr revealed early on in her IRIS Nights talk: "photojournalism is my passion." The LA Times photographer showed just how much she cares about the people she photographs by giving an awfully touching and moving lecture.

The first series of photographs in Francine's presentation focused on her documentation of people in Africa who live on just pennies a day. She told the audience that she had a hard time talking to people suffering from poverty but spoke to them anyway due to a strong urge to tell their stories.

Francine spent a bit of time talking about one photo in particular, that of a wide-eyed African woman named Margaret who was dying of HIV.

She described the moment she convinced Margaret's children to allow her to photograph their mother. She told them that the haunting image would tell the world her story and in turn this would help others.

Francine uttered several fervent soundbites during the lecture. One of our favorites was "Poverty sucks!"

Orr has spent a large amount of her career ensconced in dangerous places all over the world. She recounted one story about a time when she was in Africa and suspected her "fixer," the man she hired to protect/translate for her, planned to rob her of her expensive camera equipment.

She remembered how she'd been told by others in her field to go with her instincts. One morning, she wisely ditched him and went out on her own for the rest of her trip.

Francine also went into detail about how she befriended several homeless people she documented who live under the 7th Street Bridge in LA.

During the presentation of her final slideshow, Francine held a brave 7-month old baby boy who is the subject of a story to be published in an upcoming edition of the LA Times - a truly touching moment. That night he became the youngest person to go up on our IRIS Nights stage!

When asked by an audience member if she records interviews with her subjects before she starts photographing them, or shoots them first and then interviews them, Orr responded that's it's neither. For her, the listening comes first. When dealing with a story, she says, "the number one thing I try to do is listen." Quite a statement for a photographer.

Her two years working for the Peace Corps, on the island of Yap in Micronesia, was where she said she really learned to listen. She taught in a school there with no electricity, no outside communication except for visiting documentary film crews and anthropologists. Gathering around oil lanterns at night the Yapese people would share stories with her and each other...with not a single distraction. One of her former students from Yap - now living in the US - recently found her on Facebook and came to the lecture with a sister in tow!

Thanks, Francine, for sharing such moving and inspiring stories. We hope to hear more of them in the future!

For more information about Francine visit her upcoming official Website.

We at the Space are very excited to bring you videos of IRIS Nights lectures in a more timely manner. Click here to watch Francine's lecture online!

(All images by Unique for the Space)

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