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Matinee: 'Rick Smolan: A girl, a photograph, a homecoming' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

4 July 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the ninety-second in our series of Saturday matinees today: Rick Smolan: A girl, a photograph, a homecoming.

This 25-minute TED talk from 2008 tells a story that spans many years. It's illustrated with photographs by Rick Smolan, who also tells the story. But it's Natasha's story, an Amerasian who never knew her American father, rarely saw her Korean mother and was raised by her Korean grandmother.

Smolan, then 28, had given himself an assignment to get to know a few Amerasians and tell their story, spending a week with them instead of the typical but restricted photo shoot he'd already done on the subject in 1978 for Time magazine.

On Independence Day, we couldn't think of a better illustration of what it means to be an American.

Natasha's Korean grandmother had her own assignment, though.

Convinced she was terminally ill, she wrote the young photographer into her will, bequeathing to him her most precious possession. Natasha.

Because she was an Amerasian, Koreans were not kind to Natasha. Her grandmother realized Natasha's only hope for a decent life was to emigrate. And the young American Smolan was her ticket out.

Smolan was still sowing his wild oats and not inclined to take on the burden of a young girl who didn't speak English. As a photographer, he lived in a series of hotel rooms and was constantly on the road. But he had a nice deal with an airline that got him free tickets.

And he knew a guy who had once complained about not having another child.

We won't spoil the story. But we do recommend you stick around for the ending. Natasha herself joins Smolan on the stage and she's every bit the extraordinary person Smolan described.

On Independence Day, we couldn't think of a better illustration of what it means to be an American. And we mean both Smolan, who embodies that American mix of naivete and generousity, and Natasha, whose independence and strength is nothing if not American.

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