He wades through garbage dumps on a regular basis.
Food for the Poor photographer Benjamin Rusnak is just that dedicated to his craft. For at least one week each month, Rusnak visits a developing country to tell its tragic story through images.
“Very often images are lost and stories are lost in the huge wealth of visuals that we have. This is one way of stopping people and getting them to think,” said Rusnak, who began his photojournalism career at the Fort Meyer's News Press.
Rusnak won the prestigious Gordon Parks award, as well as Photo of the Year, from Interaction, the nation's largest coalition of U.S.-based government organizations devoted to the world’s poor.
In a two-day conference in Washington DC, Interaction showcased Rusnak’s photo, “Disposable,” taken in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, the subject a scene where vibrant colors mean anything but.
“We were interviewing a woman and her children and I heard this wailing behind me. When I turned around there was this little girl crying with this mountain of smoking garbage behind her,” Rusnak recalled.
The girl, unattended at the time, was playing with a toy found in the dump, when another child stole it from her.
“That’s just a little moment in a child’s life," Rusnak said, "but the image is symbolic of the suffering of the poor not just there but in so many places around the word."
In Guatemala, almost a quarter of children five and under are underweight and in need of food. In Quetzaltenango, Food for the Poor has built 30 homes, brought clean drinking water through various projects and recently opened a vocational training school.
Rusnak’s photographs raise awareness and funds for the cause. In this year alone, Rusnak visited Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras capturing the suffering and the resilience of the people.
“It’s always symbolic to see children competing with animals for food, but the most shocking thing is when somebody finds some food in the garbage and they just eat it right on the spot while they’re standing there,” said Rusnak, who after after 10 years at Food For the Poor is not easily shocked.
As a winner of Photo of the Year, Rusnak took advantage of the two-day conference to impart his wisdom on fellow photographers.
“[I told them] we are agents of change in people's lives and if we look at individuals and families and communities, we are making a difference, and it’s time to focus on that so as not to be discouraged by the enormity of suffering,” Rusnak said.
While some Guatemalans “subtly” pelted trash at Rusnak on his first trip in 2008, they greeted him sincerely in the trips following after Food for the Poor made a tangible difference in their community.
“I can actually quantify in dollars and in lives changed how much good my photos have done in the world. That is richly rewarding,” he said.