A former Times Magazine photographer went beyond his assignment to capture the story of the Amerasian children who were left behind by their American fathers in Southeast Asia.
Rick Smolan hoped that his photos would not only document the story, but also compel people to make a change about the situation. After Smolan’s initial dissatisfaction with the article that ran in the magazine, he was inspired to find six of these Amerasian children from different countries and tell their story with a meaningful intention.
One of his subjects was a young girl living in South Korea with her grandmother, who effortlessly stole the entirety of Smolan’s story. Unsuk Lee was a lovechild of an American G.I. and a Korean woman back in the 1960’s. Her appearance was a surprise to me as she was a contrast of American appearance surrounded by Korean natives. Smolan captured Unsuk’s simple life at home, school, and with her friends. Despite her obvious differences, Unsuk was a presence that did not go unrecognized. She presented herself as an eager student and a leader on the playground. At the end of Smolan’s self-assigned journey, Unsuk’s grandmother believed she was nearing her end and requested the Smolan take her back to America with him.
At this point in Smolan’s story, I realized how his simple mission to share the story of Amerasian children turned into something much greater than he probably expected himself. For myself, it was a very humbling thing to know that no matter where our passions take us, its the willingness and bold intention that get us up off of our feet in the first place.
Smolan’s adventure continued after an adoption made by his friend brought Unsuk, now known as Natasha, to America. Smolan captured every bump in the road from Natasha’s journey to America; from her uncle to finally agreeing to sign the adoption papers, getting caught in a deadly hotel fire, one last visit to her home village, and finally being united with her new family in the States. Natasha’s endurance and bold personality managed to stick with her through her travels. She continued to strive in school, entered beauty pageants, became captain of the cheerleading team, got a job, and eventually married with a beautiful family.
Rick Smolan’s initial assignment was to capture the story of the lives of 40,000 Amerasian children in Southeast Asia. His intention as a photographer was to compel the audience and make them feel something great enough to take action. This lead Smolan to a life-changing and life-long relationship with Natasha. His efforts encapsulated Natasha’s story in a way that made you feel like you were right there with her. From a photographer’s standpoint I think he did more than accomplish what he intended to do. Through the power of photography Rick Smolan managed to capture and influence a story along the way.