The initial inspiration to photograph women who work for the greater good started with an exhibition that I participated in at the Manhattan Borough President's office in 2002, "Celebrating the Women of New York." After the show, it occurred to me how rarely women are celebrated or acknowledged for their compassionate work, the mostly quiet work that is accomplished beneath the radar, below the minimum wage, and beyond the media's grasp of what is worth reporting. This virtual absence of recognized value inspired a photography project dedicated to honoring the calling of working for the greater good.
The work was intended to become a book, but no publisher signed on and I almost quit the effort. However, I could not bear the thought of the work and teachings of the photographed women, and my own work of six years, sitting forever in a drawer labeled "Unrealized." So, I chose, for the greater good, to turn the project into a website.
Not wanting to polarize, I decided against including politicians in the project and, because I have had grave doubts that hierarchical religion actually helps those who need it most, I initially stayed away from women formally connected to religion. The reader will find no politicians among these portraits but they will discover women engaged in religious work. My change of heart occurred after I photographed a Buddhist nun, my change of mind after I acknowledged the fact that formal religion, in the right hands, in the compassionate hands of Wisdom, can indeed help those who need it most. As a Quaker friend once whispered to me, "God is really Good misspelled."
Subsequent to each photo session, I asked the participants to answer the following three questions: What were the significant conditions of your childhood that affected the development of your character? What was your first experience in working for the greater good? What is your work right now and what do you hope it will accomplish? Their written answers form the autobiographical text pieces accompanying each portrait.
I also invited each participant to name up to four institutional resources she found valuable, and the Organizations and Publications listed are the results of their recommendations.
My heartfelt thanks to Carol Shookoff, superb editor, friend and cheerleader and Jason David Brown, extraordinary technical advisor, designer and patient teacher.
I dedicate this website to women around the world who are voiceless and powerless, for the moment.
Carolyn H. de Leon
Donna P. Hall
Karen L. King
Mary Anne Schwalbe
Ruth Lande Shuman
Mae Chee Sansanee Sthirasuta
Deborah C. Warren
For the Greater Good, Women's Work in the 21st Century is a website that combines the artistry of portraiture and the fire of activism. The images of women from around the world and the accompanying brief biographical essays are joined by an extensive listing of over two hundred organizations. The organization resource helps connect the reader with a vast array of programs from Do Something's teen leadership to the Women's Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program at Georgetown University, from Farm Sanctuary
to the Insight Meditation Society.
The purpose of the website is to educate, inspire and help expand efforts made on behalf of the greater good. To that end, it is the hope of the project creator that the site will be viewed and distributed far and wide.
FRIEDRIKE MERCK, BIO
Born and raised in dairy farm country of New Jersey, Friedrike (Anne) Merck was given a Brownie camera in 1961 and has been photographing people, construction sites and landscapes ever since. Self taught but for a Zone System workshop, Merck has exhibited her images in New England and New York City. She designed and worked in a number of darkrooms until the final image was printed for the website project, For The Greater Good, Women's Work in the 21st Century. Her favorite camera, other than her long lost Brownie, is a thirty year old Hasselblad. Ms. Merck has returned to sculpture full time.