31-year project is just one milestone in photographer’s life


Marissa Roth is part of the Los Angeles Times spot news team that won a Pulitzer prize for their work on the 1992 L.A. Riots. Growing up the daughter of Hungarian refugees escaping the Holocaust, Roth has covered everything from the Oscars to a coup attempt in the Philippines. Photo credit: Jo Rankin

Dressed in a prim, white dress for cotillion, an 8 year-old little girl felt like a fish out of water.

“At the time, all I wanted to do was wear blue jeans and climb trees,” Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Marissa Roth said with a smile, thinking about days past.

But little did that girl know, her feeling of detachment foreshadowed a lifetime of journey around the world, covering significant events for many of the major publications of the United States, including the L.A. and N.Y. Times.

“Even though I was a graphic design major, my calling was in journalism and photojournalism,” Roth said.

Roth, who has been invited by El Camino photography professor Darilyn Rowan, is currently on the advisory board for the photography department at EC and after 31 years of travel, her project was complete.

“(It was like) I didn’t have a choice of my life, like I knew I had to do the project,” Roth said. “The project is now finished, it spans 31 years of photography, 15 countries… I’m happy to have the huge ‘Women and War’ project off my back.”

A friend of Roth’s and former colleague during her career at the L.A. Times, Denise Hamilton, said that her assignments with Roth were interesting in their own way.

“A perfect example of how you can (view Roth) is when we went to Kiev, Ukraine,” Hamilton said. “We were there covering the rise of prostitution and the poverty of young women. We stayed at the nicest hotel and (staked it out).”

Hamilton said that there was a “mafioso guy” who they assumed to be the pimp of all the prostitutes and instead of leaving, Roth decided to take the woman into the bathroom.

“She was creative,” Hamilton said of Roth. “We literally did the interview in the bathroom and took the photos. She is so good at putting people at ease.”

Knowing the work that Roth has done in her career, Rowan said that there is an incredible feel to the photos that Roth takes.

“She’s passionate, devoted and heartfelt,” she said.

Roth has the charisma of someone worldly and caring. She has experienced the hardships of many people firsthand and that gives her a view of the realities of this world.

“The women I met were, I mean they really taught me how to live, how to cry… how to survive anything,” Roth said with a calm serenity in her presence.

UPDATE: Feb. 2, 11:18 a.m. An error in Roth’s position at El Camino has been fixed from “advisory board for the photojournalism department” to “advisory board for the photography department.”