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Exhibiting photographer chronicles women's rights and social justice

Posted by Christina Jedra  March 29, 2013 01:01 PM

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Photo of Shub: Josh Shub-Seltzer

Ellen Shub 2013.jpegEllen Shub, a photojournalist for more than three decades, has devoted her professional life to documenting women’s issues. Her challenge now is to share her work in a meaningful way that will inspire future generations.

That’s what Shub is aiming to do with her exhibit called “Women Making History, 1975-2013” at the Boston Public Library’s Connolly Branch in Jamaica Plain during March and April.

Her photography career “has given me the opportunity to tell the stories of the people in the pictures that otherwise might not see the light of day,” said Shub. “And I think I had a sense of having a responsibility, once I started doing this, to keep doing this.”

Shub, a resident of Newton, chose photographs for the exhibit -- honoring Women’s History Month -- that are relevant to the Jamaica Plain community and to women’s issues today. One picture she chose is of Dr. Susan Love, who practiced at Faulkner Hospital in Jamaica Plain. 

Another is of Hillary and Julie Goodridge, holding the state’s first same-sex marriage license, on the day that gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts. Hillary Goodridge lives in Jamaica Plain.

“I felt that it was important for [the women in the photographs] to have an opportunity to speak,” said Shub. 

Despite the hard work of many women to break down barriers, Shub believes that “there’s more work to be done.” Struggles that women endured early in the women’s movement are resurfacing today, she said.
She referenced the recent partisan fighting over the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, legislation originally adopted in 1994 that provides funds for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women.

Despite the resurfacing of old battles, Shub believes feminism is far from dead. The challenge that women face today, she said, is improving communication between the older and younger generations.

“I think knowing the history of what has already happened is the first step,” said Shub. The older generation has a responsibility “to communicate with the next generation what actually happened, because it can serve easily as inspiration that these things are possible.” 

Through her photography, Shub said she hopes to show people “what needs to be changed, as well as what needs to be appreciated. “ 

Shub said she takes inspiration from a quote by Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

“I believe that,” said Shub. “I believe that the path was cleared by those who went before us, and in effect, we stand on their shoulders, and their actions and accomplishments serve to inspire our own.”
Shub believes that one important step for women today would be to become more involved in journalism. According to the Global Media Monitoring Project, female journalists report 37 percent of the stories in television and newspaper outlets; female subjects appear in the news 24 percent of the time; and expert commentary is usually reserved for men.

“If we have more female voices speaking truth, more people will hear it,” Shub said. “That’s kind of motivated a lot of what I’ve done over the years.” 

Shub’s own career as a journalist began when she landed a job at Westinghouse Broadcasting Company in New York. After that, she moved on to a job at NBC in New York, where she worked on documentaries. 

After moving to Massachusetts, she worked on children’s programming at WBZ and, from there, moved on to Channel 5, where she worked on public affairs programming. When she was laid off from Channel 5 in the mid-1970s, her career as a photojournalist began. 

Shub Exhibit March 2013.jpeg
In 1975, she covered the case of Dr. Kenneth Edelin, who was being tried for manslaughter by a Boston jury because he had performed an abortion, which was legal at the time because of Roe v. Wade. Shub documented the press conferences and demonstrations happening outside the courthouse and on the Boston Common, taking her photographs to the Boston Phoenix.

“I said I wanted to show them to an editor, and they said, ‘Oh, well, everybody’s busy now. You can’t see anyone.’ And I said, ‘Oh, well that’s ok. I’ll wait,’” Shub recalled.

Shub eventually showed her photographs to the managing editor of the Phoenix, who decided to use them. So began Shub’s relationship with the Boston Phoenix -- and a career as a photojournalist.

“Some of the issues I was initially drawn to covering in the late 1970s [were] around reproductive rights, around the battered-women shelter movement, around violence against women,” Shub said. She noted that some of those same issues are stirring debate today.

Shub’s career as a photojournalist has taken her around the world: She covered an international survival gathering in the Black Hills of South Dakota; a women’s encampment for peace and justice in Seneca Falls in Upstate New York; a women’s convoy in Central America bringing medical aid to countries such as Guatemala and Honduras; and demonstrations at the Pentagon.
Along the way, “I feel like I had the role of making things visible which otherwise might not be brought to public attention,” she said.

While the work on display at the library focuses on women’s rights’ issues, Shub said women’s rights issues are also human rights’ issues, anti-war issues and social justice issues. 

“They’re not exclusively women’s issues, because all of these issues are connected,” she said.

This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of a collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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