Ruby Washington (1952-2018)
Described by the New York Times as a quiet trailblazer in photojournalism, Ruby Washington was the first African American woman to work as a staff photographer for the paper.
One of twelve children, she grew up on a farm in rural Georgia. According to those who knew her best she was at once highly ambitious and humble.
She received multiple awards for her work and yet preferred to accept them in private instead of attending the galas where they were presented. She persisted in an industry marked by male chauvinism and despite consistent harassment from male colleagues in the beginning of her career she went on to be one of the paper’s most celebrated photographers.
Her passion for telling stories with her camera started as early as middle school and she went on to study photography first in Miami, Florida and then finally in New York City.
She was hired immediately by the New York Times after graduation in the 1970s. Working first in their photo lab as a technician she was determined to pursue her dream to become a permanent staff photographer. This she achieved, photographing for the Times until her retirement in 2014.
Her most recognised image is one shot over the shoulder of former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Powell sits at a desk reading a handwritten note that congratulates him for his recent speech at the UN in which he called for the invasion of Iraq. Every part of him is blurred save the hand that holds the note. The note itself, thought to have been written by Jack Straw (British Foreign Secretary), stands in sharp focus.
Her camera brought her to the front lines of not just world politics but to the streets of New York City itself. One colleague recalled a time when Ruby saved his life from protestors, using her characteristic resolve to escape the situation unscathed.
She covered multiple crime scenes including the murder of crime boss, Paul Castellano. She documented disasters like gas explosions and the aftermath of hate crimes – promoting empathy rather than exploiting those most affected.
Her deep appreciation for the performing arts is evident in her later color photographs of dance performers. She captured them mid flight or step, preserving their powerful movements beyond the stage.
Ruby’s photography tells important stories in a beautiful way. Demonstrating the highly technical art of quality photojournalism.
For an excellent New York Times’ feature of Ruby Washington, which includes a brilliant selection of her photographs click here.
By Haley Drolet