This is the latest in our One Photo series, where photographers share their most meaningful photo and the story behind it.
We asked photographer Daniel Kramer to share the story behind this image he took of Mother Teresa in 1996. Here’s what he said.
I was 31 when I decided to retrace Mark Twain’s journey around the world. It was the 100th anniversary of his worldwide lecture tour from 1895 to 1896. At the time, he was considered the most famous entertainer on the planet.
When he finished his trip, he wrote Following The Equator, his last travel book. I read that book in 1993 just as I was starting my MFA in Documentary Photojournalism. This seemed like the perfect project: The 100th anniversary of America’s most famous author circumnavigating the globe.
In all, the project would take me through 11 countries in 10 months and was self-financed with 9 credit cards. Some of the moments I’ll never forget were photographing South African President Nelson Mandela in three different countries and an elephant relocation project in South Africa.
And then this photo I captured of Mother Teresa.
I don’t think she was aware I took the photo. I really didn’t want to disturb her. I struggled if I should even take the photo at all. I literally banged my head on the wall outside the room as I wrestled with the decision.
One voice told me, “You should just leave her alone. Ask her when she comes out.” The other voice said, “C’mon, you’ve come all the way from Green Bay. You’re never going to get another opportunity for something like this.”
I knew she wasn’t fond of media and I didn’t want to intrude. But I wasn’t the media. I was a freelance photographer self-financing the project of a lifetime.
Finally I made my decision and quietly entered the room through another doorway and sat down about 30 feet from her. I made four or five frames and then left her alone. When she came out I asked her if she would sit for a formal portrait and she smiled and said: “No dear, I have no time.” The she asked me to excuse her for a moment and when she came back, she handed me her business card and blessed me.
When I completed the project, I returned to Green Bay. I researched every letter written by every member of Twain’s party during their trip and I began pairing their quotes with my photos.
Kim Komenich took one of my mockups to Chronicle Books and Bruce Dale took the other to National Geographic Books Publishing – twice. The final word was that the photos and the idea were solid but that the book was poorly designed and that I should hire a book designer and resubmit.
At the time, a book designer cost about $15,000 and I had just maxed out 9 credit cards and was living in mom’s basement. Needless to say, I couldn’t swing it. Instead, in 2011, I decided to make a mockup with Blurb. Other than that, the project has never been published.
The photo of Mother Teresa continues to move me today. It’s a very quiet and intimate moment with one of our world leaders of the 20th century. Also, it’s a clean and minimalist photo. The light is nice.
What’s your one photo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your image and a few sentences telling us what it means to you.* We’ll pick our favorites to share.
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