Picturing the World
Alum travels the globe to tell the stories of those with no voices
By Lynn Bolt Rosendale '85

Children in Sudan
Ryan Reed photographed children in Sudan playing with balloon swords.

When Ryan Spencer Reed graduated from Calvin last year, he decided he didn’t want to spend years waiting for his one big opportunity. So he jumped on a plane and traveled to Sudan, Africa, with his camera, some lenses and not much money.

Some might think him impetuous, impatient, even foolish — but Reed describes himself as a true product of Calvin.

“Calvin shaped me. What I have tried to do is a microcosm of Calvin’s perspective about redeeming all areas of life,” he said simply.

Reed spent seven months in Africa, mostly in and around Sudan, taking pictures — 90,000 of them to be exact — in an attempt to create images that would raise people’s social consciousness.

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“Where I see myself in the world is as a very privileged member of the Western world,” he said. “I have a responsibility to do something about the injustices in the world.”

So Reed created images of children playing with guns, of dirty hospital conditions, of a smiling woman sitting in a marketplace with nothing to sell, of a baby girl’s funeral — of typical life in a country torn by civil unrest for more than 20 years.

The photos were easy to get, said Reed. “A white guy with a camera equals their opportunity to tell the world what’s happening to them; it’s their opportunity to make an appeal. Without that understanding, what I did would have been impossible.”

Reed sold some of his pictures to wire services and daily publications while in Africa, but he believes images like his belong in publications every day.

“They should be in the dailies, the weeklies, the monthlies,” he said. “They should be there to ruin your day, to stop you, to grip you and make you think.”

Sudanese woman
A Sudanese woman recovers at Lui Hospital.

While many of the photos reflect dire circumstances, Reed is quick to point out that his work is not about hardening people; it’s about confronting their sensibilities.

“Journalism focuses too much on problems,” he said. “I think what should be made clear is more options. We need to offer more hope. It’s not about some dark mountain that can never be leveled.

“We have more rights than anyone in this universe. We should use them. Write your senator. Pray. And then it comes down to sacrifices; it’s about time, and it’s about money.”

But without the images it’s easy to forget.

Reed hopes to publish many more of his photos.

“I would feel terrible if these were just stepping stones, something in my portfolio, to get me a job,” he said. “If I didn’t do anything to help these people, that would weigh heavily on my conscience.”