Celebrating Women Photographers: Carolyn Cole

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In honor of Women’s History Month, the Los Angeles Times photography department would like to highlight our award-winning female staff photographers.

Carolyn Cole’s career as a photojournalist has led her to cover most major news events of the past three decades; wars, natural and man-made disasters, along with human-interest stories of all kinds. Her coverage of the civil crisis in Liberia won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. Cole has been named U.S. newspaper photographer of the year three times.

“Photojournalism is more than a profession, it’s a passion that requires constant pursuit,” Cole says. “No matter how long you’ve been taking pictures, it’s always difficult to get good images, that not only report the news, but that are well-composed, with good light, and feeling.”

I love being a witness to history, but it comes with the responsibility of making images that will stand the test of time.

Carolyn Cole

Migrants land near Roma, Texas, after crossing the Rio Grande on their way to seek asylum in the United States on March 26, 2021.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

People sleep on the ground without pillows or blankets

Asylum seekers, including minors and babies, sleep on the ground while waiting to be bused to Border Patrol facilities where they will be processed in La Joya, Texas, on March 25, 2021.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Jamileh Heydari nurses her young son, Matin, in the crush of people against a barricade.

Jamileh Heydari, an Afghan mother, nurses her young son Matin amid a crush of migrants pressed against a barricade at Slovenia’s border with Austria. Heydari and her family were among thousands of people trying to get to Austria and on to Germany.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Behind the photographs:

Despite all of our problems, migrants continue to come to the United States because of the freedoms and opportunities we have.

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Across the world, Afghans were part of the 1 million migrants who crossed Europe in the fall of 2015.

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The face of one Afghan woman, who was nursing her child as she begged for entry at the border, symbolizes the strength, determination and desperation of migrants who are fleeing war and poverty.

Carolyn Cole

Living in fear of the janjaweed fighters who killed their father, Sabir Ali Abdul holds his 2-year-old sibling Araafa.

Living in fear of the janjaweed fighters who killed their father, Sabir Ali Abdul holds his 2-year-old sibling Araafa inside their hut while their mother is at work in the fields in Feina, Sudan, in September 2004.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Several California Highway Patrol officers take a woman into custody who refused to follow orders

Highway Patrol officers take a woman into custody who refused to follow orders to move off the state Capitol grounds during a protest demanding a rollback of state coronavirus restrictions on May 1, 2020, in Sacramento.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Behind the photograph:

As the California state closures dragged on due to the pandemic, a group protested at the state Capitol, where I photographed a woman getting into a tussle with police. That was early in the COVID-19 pandemic when police weren’t even wearing masks.

Pictures capture a slice in time, as history marches on.

Carolyn Cole

 Job Atlaia works on building a sea wall on the northwest end of Majuro in the summer of 2018.

Job Atlaia works on building a sea wall on the northwest end of Majuro in the summer of 2018 on Marshall Island. The Marshallese government project is designed to hold back flooding caused by king tides and sea level rise.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Jesus Torres, 75, digs graves with a shovel at La Piedad Cemetery in McAllen, Texas.

Jesus Torres, 75, was hired to dig graves after the backhoe broke down at La Piedad Cemetery in McAllen, Texas, on July 20, 2020. At the time, there were three funerals a day at the cemetery due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the coronavirus spread rapidly through the Rio Grande Valley.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Migrants seeking asylum wait by a fence as a Border Patrol agent shines his flashlight toward them.

Asylum seekers who have just crossed the Rio Grande wait for directions from Border Patrol agents before being processed in Roma, Texas, on March 18, 2021.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Behind the photograph:

Most recently, I covered the steady stream of asylum seekers crossing the Rio Grande in rafts with the help of smugglers.

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This isn’t easy, as they normally cross at night and at different locations along the river. In order to get this image, I spent six nights hiding in the bushes, hoping to be in the right place at the right time.

I hope this image paired with the story, will give readers a better idea of who these people are, why they are coming and the sacrifices they make to get to the U.S.

Carolyn Cole

On the Shiite Islam holiday of Ashura, worshipers visit the Karte Sakhi shrine in Kabul, Afghanistan.

On the Shiite Islam holiday of Ashura, worshipers visit the Karte Sakhi shrine in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Nov. 24, 2012. The previous year, a suicide bombing on the holiday killed 48 people, In 2012, there were no bombings, though Afghan security forces say they were able to stop two attackers before they completed their mission.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

A young Taliban soldier watches after a sheep as they enter the Salang Tunnel in Afghanistan.

A young Taliban soldier watches after a sheep, kept as food for the fighters, as they enter the Salang Tunnel in Afghanistan, Nov. 9, 2001.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

The Merced River flows between snow-covered banks with El Capitan in the background

El Capitan is reflected in the Merced River at sunset on Feb. 1, 2021, as Yosemite National Park reopens after being closed since Jan. 19 by a snow and windstorm that caused hazardous conditions. The park received several feet of snow during the storm.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Behind the photograph:

My job isn’t all doom and gloom. I recently gained access to Yosemite while it was closed to visitors, to photograph the heavy snowfall.

I was there all day, but it wasn’t until after sunset that I got this image of El Capitan reflected in the Merced River.

A young bobcat hunts for a meal in Yosemite Valley on April 11, 2020.

A young bobcat hunts for a meal in Yosemite Valley on April 11, 2020. Yosemite National Park was closed to visitors due to the coronavirus and animals were able to roam the park without having to worry about crowds of people.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

A Haitian man carries one child on his shoulders and holds another by his arm as he wades across the Rio Grande.

A Haitian man carries one child on his shoulders and holds another by his arm as he wades across the Rio Grande from Mexico to the U.S. on June 24, 2018.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

A mural of the face of Saddam Hussein is painted over by Salem Yuel at what was once a Fedayeen training camp in Baghdad.

A mural of the face of Saddam Hussein, riddled with bullet holes, is painted over by Salem Yuel at what was once a Fedayeen training camp in Baghdad on April 16, 2004, to be replaced with a sign for the Syrian Democratic Party headquarters as symbols of Saddam Hussein were quickly disappearing throughout the city.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Behind the photography:

Making timeless images was especially important to me while covering the Iraq war, where I was one of the few American photographers in Baghdad during the U.S. bombing campaign.

Soon after the U.S. troops arrived, I saw images of Saddam Hussein disappearing around the city.

Within weeks, the whole country had changed.

Carolyn Cole

Flower girl Mia Cedillo, 5, wore a face mask at a family wedding at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church.

Flower girl Mia Cedillo, 5, wore a face mask at a family wedding on July 20, 2020, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Mission, Texas, processing past pews blocked off to ensure social distance as the coronavirus spread rapidly through the Rio Grande Valley.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

A heavily oiled pelican flounders on the beach at East Grand Terre Island in Barataria Bay, La.

A heavily oiled pelican flounders on the beach at East Grand Terre Island in Barataria Bay, La., on May 4, 2010, as oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill continues to pour into the area, a breeding area for wildlife.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Behind the photograph:

Often the most important images that need to be taken are in places authorities don’t want you and of things they don’t want to be seen. That was equally true for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, where the areas where oil was washing ashore were cordoned off by police.

Because the oil spill occurred more than 50 miles offshore, it was difficult to get to. This image of an oil-soaked pelican affected me so much personally that I am now covering environmental issues on a more regular basis.

My hope is that I can continue to contribute with my photography and possibly pass on that passion to the next generation.

The language of photography is universal and must be used to build understanding, compassion, and change for a better future.

Carolyn Cole



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