Prized Storytelling

April 18, 2014

By Kelly O'Brien ‘15

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Renee Byer ’80 has traveled through four continents creating poignant portraits of the world’s most poverty-stricken people.  Though she has visited various countries, her journey to professional success started on the Hilltop, where she returned Thursday to share her international experiences.

Byer spoke with students in communications and photography classes before headlining the Spring 2014 Robison Lecture to discuss using photography to reveal the story of the human experience.  She explained elements essential to all communication fields, according to Assistant Professor of Communication Dr. Angela Pratt. 

“The anecdotes and advice she shared benefit the students by showing them the importance of storytelling skills, ethics, empathy, professionalism and preparedness,” Pratt said.

Public relations student Jenny Rudnicki ’15 felt inspired by Byer.  Hoping to enter the Peace Corps upon graduation, she said Byer’s work with the underprivileged pushed her to commit to helping others.

“Renee is a role model,” she said.  “I want to be just like her and change the world with my work.” 

One photograph at a time, Byer hopes to bring about awareness of the poorest parts of the globe.  During the Robison Lecture entitled "Living on the Brink: Images of Humanity," she showed photographs from her recently released book Living on a Dollar a Day: The Lives and Faces of the World's Poor.”

Though harrowing, the shots highlighted the hope in the eyes of even the most impoverished people.

“My job is to put a human face on the huge global story of poverty,” she said. “I want people to see that the human spirit still prevails in the worst of deprivation.”

After seeing the extreme lack of educational resources in the slums of countries such as India, Thailand and Bangladesh, Byer, a University Centurion, considers herself lucky to be a Bradley alumna.

“I am very privileged to have gone to a place where you get one-on-one attention from professors,” she said.

Today Byer plays the role of a professor, teaching the world through her photographs about the need to help its disadvantaged people. 

Renée C. Byer '80 is an American documentary photojournalist best known for her in-depth work on those who are disadvantaged or whose voices have not been heard. Her capacity to create photographs with profound emotional resonance and sensitivity earned the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography in 2007 and dozens of other national and international honors, including that of Pulitzer finalist in 2013.

Paul Kitagaki Jr. has been a senior photographer at The Sacramento Bee since 2003. During his career as a photojournalist and documentary photographer he has covered local, national and international events from Vietnam to Iraq and seven Olympic games, and other sporting events including the Super Bowl, NBA playoffs, World Series, World Cup, US Open and the Amegen Tour of California for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Oregonian, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Examiner, ZUMA Press, San Francisco Progress and San Mateo Times.

An article on the lecture by Byer and Kitagaki, "Making a Connection," was published in the Sunday, April 13, 2014 edition of Arts plus in the Peoria Journal Star. Article posted with permission. The link: