Photojournalist Alissa Everett left the lucrative world of banking to document the human cost of the planet's most intractable conflicts.
A decade ago Alissa Everett was holed up in her cubicle at an investment bank in San Francisco, flipping through acceptance packages from two top MBA programs. Numb from 100-hour workweeks, she'd applied to business school "because that's what everyone else was doing," she recalls. But as she read about statistics, accounting, and operations courses, "I had an aha moment," she says. It suddenly seemed ridiculous to take on crushing debt to study subjects she wasn't passionate about. Within weeks, Everett had tossed her acceptance letters in the trash, quit her job, and flown to Southeast Asia to do some soul-searching.

Backpacking for months through Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Burma—and later the Balkans, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Egypt—she snapped thousands of photos. "As a kid, I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer," she says. "When I left my all-consuming job and cleared my head, I realized taking pictures was still what I wanted to do."

By 2003 the invasion of Iraq was dominating the airwaves. Everett made a gut decision "to go where the news was happening," she says, hoping it would help her get her work published. She drove over the border from Jordan with a fellow journalist, and after she met an army media person, got embedded with the 101st Airborne. When U.S. forces killed Saddam Hussein's sons in Mosul that July, Everett was in the right place at the right time. She showed her photos to an NBC producer, who ran them on Dateline.

Since then Everett has worked in Pakistan, Darfur, the Congo, and the Gaza Strip. Eschewing the sensationalized scenes of explosions and gunfire favored by many news outlets, she tries to capture war's more mundane human dramas: a farmer reaping a modest harvest in ravaged Darfur, a rape victim refugee starting a sewing business in the Congo. "I'm drawn to under-the-radar stories that have passion, hope, and optimism," she says. Everett's time in Sudan inspired her to cofound Care Through Action, which raises funds for women and children who are victims of human rights abuses; her photos help fund the charity. "I don't go to places just because they're risky," she says. "I go because I believe the world needs to know what's going on. I want to tell stories for people who can't." —Bill Fink

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