Andrea Jean Bruce 95

Distinguished Young Alumni Award

Andrea Jean Bruce ’95

Focus is important to a photographer, and Andrea Bruce has kept hers razor-sharp while on assignment in Iraq, Afghanistan, China, Kashmir and New Orleans, sending her editors stunning images she got working in high-pressure situations. Her focus has served her well while following soldiers into war . . . and while following Al Gore into the grocery store.

Andrea had politely but tenaciously dogged Gore through days of scripted photo ops, before finally winning a few moments alone with him when his guard was down. The lighting was a little off, but the expression on Gore’s face was priceless, her editor said. Her photo of his reaction as a store clerk failed to recognize him won her  the White House News Photographers Association honor for the best political photo of the year.

Andrea came to Carolina with the idea of becoming a reporter. It wasn’t until her senior year that she took a photojournalism course with Rich Beckman, the James L. Knight Distinguished Professor of Journalism. Her passion was ignited and showed in her early work.

“She had an excellent eye and a good sense of story-telling,” Beckman said. Whether she’s photographing the victims of a devastating earthquake or the contestants in a spelling bee, her pictures show she cares about the issues and the people they affect, Beckman said.

After graduating, Andrea took a series of internships at papers around the country, landing a full-time slot at the small but significant Concord Monitor in New Hampshire. Though she was “fairly raw, photojournalistically,” said the Monitor’s photo editor, Dan Habib, “something in her work showed that she was going to be able to get close to people. That was the biggest plus.”

Her photos at the Monitor reflected her curiosity about what makes people tick, and as her career progressed, she brought her compassion and empathy to an international stage. While at the Monitor, she pitched a story about orphans in Romania lost to the streets. The paper sent her to Romania for 10 days, where she took the photos and wrote the story. She put the same energy into a series of love and loss, photographing and writing sensitively about widows and widowers in a small New Hampshire town.

She went next to the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, where her work caught the attention of The Washington Post, whose editors asked her to come up for an interview. She was hired as a staff photographer. Never one who had dreamed of traveling the world, Andrea was sent to Iraq for 9 months, then to Afghanistan.

Physically and emotionally exhausting assignments stacked up as disasters and unrest unfurled in quick succession. She showed her endurance yet again after she returned from New Orleans, fatigued from the trauma of Hurricane Katrina, only to be sent on the next flight out to cover the earthquake in Kashmir.

“She promised she’d file something every day,” said Post picture editor Keith Jenkins. “That was kind of an impossible promise to keep. She went only with her cameras, no transmitting equipment. Every afternoon, she had to beg and borrow equipment. And she made deadline every day.”

Most photographers dream of winning the White House News Photographers Association’s Photographer of the Year award once. Andrea has won it three times, as well as the John Faber Award from the Overseas Press Club for shots of the life of an Iraqi prostitute.

The photography profession is a tough calling. It requires a rare blend of compassion, fearlessness and unflappability to seek out and record events many of us would rather not know about. Transporting uncomfortable images to those in comfortable worlds with the power to make a difference keeps Andrea Bruce going. She felt frustrated after returning from Iraq to see people who seemed to care so little about the turmoil caused by the war. But there are moments of great reward, times when she feels as if her work actually is changing lives—not just documenting despair. A photo she took of a family whose house was demolished by the fighting was seen by a person who donated $5,000 to that family, enough to rebuild their house.

In her own words, “You really can change the world by taking a picture of it.”

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