Retirement was never the end of the road for Langley resident Marie Plakos. It was only the beginning of a new chapter.
Plakos was always keen on photography. When she concluded her life as a school superintendent, she spent her free time honing her skills while traveling the globe. What started as a hobby became a full-time job of sorts, and now her photography career looks to be picking up steam after she booked an exhibition at a museum with a recognizable namesake.
Plakos has landed a one-woman photo exhibition at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, Ga. for her series, “Our Sister’s Keeper.” The project captures images of women and girls in developing countries around the world. She agrees with Carter that the abuse of women and girls worldwide is the most important issue of our times.
Plakos said she read Carter’s book, “A Call to Action,” and reached out to the former president. He responded and they cultivated a professional relationship of mutual interest. They shared each other’s views of raising awareness of human rights abuses, she said. Later, the museum elected to feature her work.
The exhibition opens Sept. 13 and will run until late December.
Her series includes evocative images of women and children from India, Ghana, Peru and Chiapas, Mexico. The photos were taken over the past seven years while traveling the globe with her husband, John. The two chose places off the beaten path and away from hotspots popular with Western travelers. That was due to Plakos’ interest in her other hobby as a textile artist, and her husband’s background working across the world as a cultural attaché. While traveling as a textile artist, Plakos realized she was more drawn to something else: the women behind the textiles.
“I found as I was looking at the textiles and the work that women would do in these cultures, I noticed how hard their lives were and how impoverished the conditions a lot of the women were living in,” Plakos said. “I became interested in finding out more about their lives and health-involved issues with women.”
Plakos aims to capture much more than simply the lives of women in developing countries. Her photo series evokes powerful feelings of persistence and various emotions, and highlights the strength of the women in her images. Her style features a backdrop of the often impoverished setting, but she focuses on the subject by blurring the background. While her work touches upon human rights issues involving women and girls, it highlights the strength and beauty of her subjects.
“She is an extraordinarily talented photographer — her work is primarily what I consider street photography and she photographs people in their natural environment,” said Tom Hanify, a working member of the Whidbey Art Gallery. “She has a style that emphasizes the women and mutes the background.”
In addition to the countries included in the exhibition, Plakos has snapped images in countries such as Kenya, Indonesia and China. She and her husband travel about four times a year, for three to four weeks at a time. It’s fair to say they’re seasoned travelers who do well in foreign environments — they try to blend in with the locals and make them comfortable. In doing so she comes away with very raw and natural images of people going about their every day lives.
“Marie has a wonderful way of interacting with people,” John Plakos said. “It’s sincere and comes from the heart and I’m extremely proud of the work she produces.”
Marie Plakos’ work has elements of photojournalism. In her previous photo books and for her current series, she writes accompanying pieces that further tell the story of the women in her photos. Her writing includes anecdotes and background of the places and people, and takes readers into the lives of her subjects.
One such example is her work from the Gambaga witch camps in a remote region of northern Ghana. Although short, her writing is sweet and offers viewers a first-person account of the shock she experienced when she discovered women were still being accused of witchcraft. She provides a background of the town’s history, how it functions and what the accused women do for work.
“Once again, I found commonality between two seemingly different societies,” Plakos writes on her website. “The Western world seems content to warehouse our seniors. The creature comforts may be more in evidence, but where is the compassion? Where is the caring?”
Plakos said she found solace in the strength of the women she photographs. Her subjects generally did most of the brunt work in the villages, including building the homes, cooking the food and weeding while the men did things such as watch the livestock. Yet throughout it all, she managed to capture their happiness in intimate moments.
And she hopes that touches people’s hearts.
Plakos’ work can be found at http://www.oursisterskeeper.org/.