Brain Pickings

Faces of Justice: Mariana Cook’s Portraits of Human Rights Leaders

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“Peering through the camera lens, I hoped to gain an understanding of how they become so devoted to the rights and dignity of others.”

On the heels of Aung San Suu Kyi’s timeless wisdom on freedom from fear comes Justice: Faces of the Human Rights Revolution (public library) by New-York-based photographer Mariana Cook — who gave us this heart-warming portrait of Maurice Sendak and his dog Herman, a fine addition to history’s beloved literary pets. The humanist upgrade to Platon’s Power, Cook’s magnificent black-and-white portraits, poetic and dignified, capture 99 beloved luminaries ranging from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who spearheaded the opposition to apartheid, to President Jimmy Carter to Sir Sydney Kentridge, who served as the lead lawyer in the 1962 trial of Nelson Mandela, to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who helped champion this week’s historic win for marriage equality.

Cook frames the project in her preface:

How do people come to feel so passionately about fairness and freedom that they will risk their livelihoods, even their lives, to pursue justice? A few years ago, I became fascinated by such people—people for whom the “rule of law” is no mere abstraction, for whom human rights is a fiercely urgent concern. I wanted to give a face to social justice by making portraits of human rights pioneers. I am a photographer. I understand by seeing. Peering through the camera lens, I hoped to gain an understanding of how they become so devoted to the rights and dignity of others.

Ludmilla Alexeeva

Photograph: Mariana Cook

Desmond Tutu

Photograph: Mariana Cook

Aung San Suu Kyi

Photograph: Mariana Cook

Raja Shehadeh

Photograph: Mariana Cook

Hina Jilani

Photograph: Mariana Cook

Takna Sangpo

Photograph: Mariana Cook

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Photograph: Mariana Cook

Nicholas Kristof

Photograph: Mariana Cook

Accompanying each portrait is a micro-essay exploring the life, legacy, and singular spirit of its subject.

In this short interview, Cook discusses the project with TV commentator Jack Ford:

Justice: Faces of the Human Rights Revolution is a follow-up to Cook’s Faces of Science: Portraits (2005) and Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World (2009).

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