“Sonhos e Saudades” – the Portuguese title of an exhibit by acclaimed photojournalists Tyrone Turner and Susan Sterner – means “dreams and longings.”
“Brazilians are big dreamers, incredibly optimistic,” Sterner explained in a recent telephone interview, reflecting on the time, 1998-’00, when she and Turner, her professional partner and husband, worked in Northeastern Brazil. A two-year fellowship with the Institute of Current World Affairs Time enabled them to document, in still photography, the human side of issues there, including land rights, literacy, public health and women’s lives.
An exhibit of this work opens Feb. 14 in Eastern Mennonite University’s Margaret Martin Gehman Gallery in the University Commons.
Paulette Moore, associate professor in EMU’s visual and communication arts department, characterizes the couple as “some of my oldest and dearest friends,” whom she met when they were neighbors in Northern Virginia.
“It’s been amazing for me to watch them grow and change,” Moore adds. “Everything they do has a deeply human element.” She views their creativity as never “merely aesthetic. They’re deeply concerned with every story. They are not patronizing, but walk with the people they photograph.”
The couple will speak at both the exhibit opening and a performance of the play Time Stands Still on the evening of Feb. 14.
Sterner was touched by the Brazilians’ “optimism and ingenuity – how they went about solving problems. It’s a country of survivors.” Northeastern Brazil’s sertão (backcountry) is a semi-arid, often-mythologized area that entails “hard lives.” Droughts and famines require frequent migrations, reminiscent of America’s Depression-era Dust Bowl, Sterner explained. She and Turner primarily worked in the provinces Bahia and Pernambuco and the city Recife.
Sterner is director of photojournalism programs at D.C.’s Corcoran College of Art and Design. Prior to the Brazil project, she documented immigration and poverty in the United States and life in Haiti for the Associated Press. From 2001 to 2006, she was a White House photographer.
Sterner’s work was previously featured in a 2011 exhibit at EMU, titled “Women’s Apron Stories,” which centered on women in El Salvador.
Turner, a New Orleans native and adjunct professor at the Corcoran, has worked with the Times Picayune and Los Angeles Times newspapers. His work has appeared in National Geographic on subjects including Katrina, the Gulf Oil Spill and quilombos (descendants of runaway slaves who settled on the Brazilian frontier).
The couple will speak at 4 p.m. at the Feb. 14 opening of “Sonhos e Saudades: Tracing Northeastern Brazil.” That evening they will participate in a talk-back following a production of Time Stands Still, a Tony nominated play written by Pulitzer Prize winning Donald Margulies, at 7:30 pm in the Eshleman Studio Theater. The play is about a photojournalist who has returned home from covering war-torn Iraq, where she was injured; she must deal with personal issues, including her relationship to her reporter-boyfriend, a fellow war correspondent.