Award-winning photojournalists visiting Peoria

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Renee et al
renee Book cover

As a Peoria Journal Star photojournalist decades ago, Renee Byer empathized with the marginalized. Since then, her instinct and impulse to identify with the less fortunate has taken her skills from central Illinois to the world.

And back again.

Byer, a 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner, is scheduled to speak at Bradley University on April 17, when she and her husband, award-winning sports photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr., will discuss their work – which also will be on exhibit at Bradley's Hartmann Center Gallery April 14-29.

Throughout Byer's career – from Peoria to Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Washington and California – the 1980 Bradley alum has sought out and shared images of everyday people in crisis, unusual predicaments and the humanity everyone shares.

Her Pulitzer was for a series of photos she did for the Sacramento Bee newspaper of a mother coping with a terminally ill child. She won global recognition for a series on biotechnology and hunger in 2004 and for the "Women at War" series a year later. Last year, Byer was a Pulitzer finalist for images of a grandfather struggling to raise three grandkids after his daughter was murdered and his wife died of cancer.

Working in Peoria until 1988, Byer effectively portrayed the old Peoria Rescue Mission, people involved in prostitution, and a Pekin boy who lost his legs in a train accident and who had months of rehabilitation. In most of her work, then and now, Byer has brought a sense of an observer looking through lenses of innocence and awe.

This month, her work is featured in a new book, "Living on a Dollar a Day." Co-authored with Tom Nazario of the Forgotten International, a nonprofit anti-poverty group advocating for children and the poorest of the poor, the 352-page book from Quantuck Lane Press captures a glimpse of the deprivation suffered by millions of people.

Traveling to Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cambodia, Ghana, India, Liberia, Moldova, Peru, Romania and Thailand, Byer, Nazario and videographer George Rosenfeld interacted with subsistence farmers, factory workers, prostitutes, fishing families, herders, garbage recyclers and beggars, and the project shows a few of the 1 billion human beings who somehow survive on a dollar a day.

Having also visited charitable clinics, community centers, foundations, and aid organizations, they present reasons why poverty grips so many human beings in so many different ways, and they blend beautiful but heart-wrenching pictures with profiles that give dignity and voice to those in need.

Kitagaki may be best known for his sports photography, which has seen the Sacramento Bee Senior Photographer covering the World Series, the Super Bowl and the Olympics for Sports Illustrated, ESPN: The Magazine and countless newspapers and magazines. But he's also covered politics, such as Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign, and special projects, such as 2012's "A Pain That Persists: Japanese Americans scarred by WWII Internments," in which he presented images of Japanese Americans forced into "relocation camps" in 1942. His photo project was the culmination of years of research after discovering that his own family's internment had been documented by noted photography Dorothea Lange.

Byer and Kitagaki's 7:30 p.m. lecture April 17 will be followed by a reception in Bradley's Michel Student Center Ballroom.

About the Author
Bill Knight recently retired after a couple decades teaching journalism at Western Illinois University. Now, you might find him strolling through the streets of Elmwood with his wife and fellow writer, Terry Bibo, along with their son, Opie, and his beloved collie, Lassie.* *Actually this last bit isn’t true. Not to mention the fact that our writer got “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Lassie & Timmy” mixed up.