Paula Lerner, the principal photographer for the Emmy Award-winning feature Behind the Veil about the lives of women and teenage girls in Afghanistan, died Tuesday.
Ms. Lerner was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 but after surgery and treatment, she resumed a fairly normal life, her family said in a statement posted on her Facebook page. Five years later, she was diagnosed with metastatic disease in her bones, which spread to some of her internal organs.
Ms. Lerner, a freelance photographer and photojournalist since 1985, was a key player in Behind the Veil, which ran on The Globe’s website and in print in 2009.
The project used articles, videos and photographs to explore the daily lives of Afghan women. It won an EPPY award for best Web special feature-enterprise and an Emmy Award in the category of new approaches to news and documentary programming.
Globe reporter Jessica Leeder who was also a key player in the Behind the Veil project, remembers talking to Ms. Lerner an hour before the Emmy Award was presented to discuss what they would say if they won.
“Paula was adamant that we use the moment not to thank editors but to underscore how important it is to continue telling the stories of women in Afghanistan – a severely marginalized group,” Ms. Leeder said in an e-mail Tuesday.
“I think often of what she said that night. Her approach was a reminder of what good journalism is truly about. To say she was a role model is a vast understatement.”
Ms. Leeder said the photojournalist’s passion went beyond her craft.
“She was passionate about her craft, but perhaps more so about the subjects of her work. Her devotion to telling their stories with clarity and integrity was contagious,” Ms. Leeder said.
Ms. Lerner, who lived in Belmont, Ma., made five trips to Afghanistan and regularly focused on women’s issues during her career.
In a live online discussion hosted by The Globe when the series launched, a lot of the questions and answers dealt with how much of life for Afghan women seemed like misery. But Ms. Lerner said she made an effort to also cover their joy in everyday life.
“Baking bread, playing with your children, singing at weddings – all these things happen all the time, but are generally not reported,” Ms. Lerner said at that time.
Gaining access to women and girls in Afghanistan was difficult, she said, and it was possible only through a friend and colleague who was born in Kandahar but grew up in the U.S.
“There were often many restrictions on who and how I could photograph, but I give these women a lot of credit for having the courage to work with us,” she said.
Over the years, her work also appeared in publications including Smithsonian, People, Time, Newsweek, and Business Week.
The 52-year-old was a member of the National Press Photographers Association since 1993, NPPA said on its website.
For the last week, the Harvard University graduate was surrounded by family, including her husband and two daughters. A memorial is planned in Belmont for Friday.
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