Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with CNN and discuss a subject that has profoundly impacted my life and work: child labor and modern-day slavery. Over the past 30-plus years, my camera has been my tool for documenting humanity across the globe. However, it wasn’t until I learned about the existence of modern-day slavery that my trajectory shifted significantly.

I was initially struck by my own ignorance about this issue. My entire career revolves around seeing others and capturing their stories, yet I had no idea such widespread suffering was taking place. This realization fueled my determination to bring these hidden stories to light.

Heart-Wrenching Realities

My work has taken me to places where children endure unimaginable hardships. In the brick kilns of South Asia, I’ve seen kids carrying stacks of bricks on their heads under the scorching sun. In West Africa, I’ve documented young boys working in dangerous gold mines, breathing in hazardous dust. These children, who should be in school gaining an education, are instead trapped in a cycle of relentless labor.

One of the most poignant aspects of this journey has been witnessing the children’s varied reactions to being photographed. I never take a photo without permission, always working with abolitionists who help build trust. Some children, despite their circumstances, find moments of joy and excitement in the presence of my camera. Others, understandably, are apprehensive, especially in extremely perilous environments like Lake Volta in Ghana, where they work on boats without knowing how to swim.

Emotional Toll

Being on the front lines and seeing these conditions up close is incredibly heart-wrenching. I remember vividly the first time I saw children laboring in brick kilns. The heat was intense, and the air was thick with dust. Seeing kids and elders alike, stooped over and covered in brick dust, moving with deadpan expressions, was overwhelming. I couldn’t help but shed a tear, though I was quickly reminded that showing emotion could jeopardize their safety and mine.

Capturing the Spirit

My approach to photography is highly intuitive. When I document child labor, I aim to capture not just the harsh realities but the spirit of the individuals I photograph. In my “Shine Light on Slavery” series, I incorporated symbolic elements like hands and candles to emphasize the plight of these children. These images were taken quickly and discreetly, always with the intention of raising awareness and sharing their stories with the world.

A Call to Action

Through my work, I hope to evoke empathy and action. When people see a child in forced labor, I want them to recognize that child as their own. We all share a responsibility to protect and help these children. I’ve found that young people, in particular, are deeply moved by these images, often feeling a profound sense of guilt and empathy. They see themselves in these children and feel compelled to make a difference.

Collaborating with organizations like Free the Slaves has been crucial in this mission. Together, we can shine a light on these critical issues and work towards a world where every child is free to live, learn, and thrive.

Read Lisa’s full interview on

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