We had the good fortune of connecting with Michele Zousmer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michele, what do you attribute your success to?
Being a photographer has opened up so many worlds to me. I have been changed by all the people I have met and all that I have witnessed. My heart and my mind experience the world differently now. I see beauty and strength in people along with vulnerability and spirit, going beyond how one presents oneself to the world. I hope my work inspires you to feel we all matter and to care more profoundly about others. Differences on the outside do not reflect the fact that inside we are all the same. I hope my work creates connection and conversation about diversity and global issues. I have traveled to over 74 countries. I gravitate to women and children’s issues. I believe it is my personal responsibility to bring awareness of things I feel are unjust. Sometimes it is a bit risky but many times change has occurred. The secret is not knowing what to do or what to say but just showing up, giving support and hope. I refuse to let others define me or you! This is what I do.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Life experiences set us apart. My story began 8 years ago when I lost my beloved husband to cancer. Happily married for 30 years we had so many plans. My life as I knew it was over. It was at this time that I was having lunch with Sheriff Gore of San Diego county and he turned to me and asked if I could ‘change the perception of the female convict’ with my camera. He was very excited about a new reentry program at Las Colinas Rehabilitation and Detention Center for women. I felt so honored and immediately said yes, not knowing what I was going to encounter. I entered Las Colinas curious and open to a new experience. I listened to the women’s stories. I observed them through my lens as they ached and cried and were remorseful about all they had done. I saw them in a different way. Not as bad women but as victims of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. I started to befriend them, support and encourage them. I realized I was helping them heal but they were doing the same to me. I was becoming stronger and my loss no longer defined me. I shared my grief with my ‘ladies’. I showed up for them. I validated them. I accepted them unconditionally. I realized then that strangers, and people who seem different then me, are the part of me I do not yet know. Starting from this place of wonder and exploration the world began to change for me.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The coast for its beauty. The beach towns for their personalities. Downtown San Diego, including Balboa Park, for its culture and feel of our inner city. Being a New Yorker I search for diversity.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have worked for so many organizations and have travelled to so many countries I cannot even begin to choose one person. Can I give a general shout out to all my mentors and all the people who have let me into their lives? I can never forget any of them. There will always be a place in my heart for each and every one of them.
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