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Photographer Maranie Rae Staab takes life-changing leap of faith

Rex Rutkoski
| Sunday, April 8, 2018 9:00 p.m
gtrlivartexhibit040918
Maranie Staab
gtrlivartexhibitgirl040918
Maranie Staab and Amal in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border.
gtrlivartexhibit1040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit3040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit2040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit040918
Maranie Staab
gtrlivartexhibitgirl040918
Maranie Staab and Amal in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border.
gtrlivartexhibit1040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit3040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit2040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit040918
Maranie Staab
gtrlivartexhibitgirl040918
Maranie Staab and Amal in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border.
gtrlivartexhibit1040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit3040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit2040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit040918
Maranie Staab
gtrlivartexhibitgirl040918
Maranie Staab and Amal in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border.
gtrlivartexhibit1040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit3040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit2040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit040918
Maranie Staab
gtrlivartexhibitgirl040918
Maranie Staab and Amal in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border.
gtrlivartexhibit040918
Maranie Staab
gtrlivartexhibit1040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibitgirl040918
Maranie Staab and Amal in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border.
gtrlivartexhibit3040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit1040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit3040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit2040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit040918
Maranie Staab
gtrlivartexhibit040918
Maranie Staab
gtrlivartexhibitgirl040918
Maranie Staab and Amal in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border.
gtrlivartexhibitgirl040918
Maranie Staab and Amal in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border.
gtrlivartexhibit1040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit1040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit3040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit3040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit2040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.
gtrlivartexhibit2040918
Maranie Staab
Maranie Staab's exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari Refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border. The images are of life inside of the camp and of displaced Syrian refugees.

Growing up in Penn Township, Maranie Rae Staab was always the friend with a camera.

That hasn’t changed except that her subjects have gone global.

Staab, 30, whose work is being exhibited at Penn State, New Kensington, from April 9 to 27, is a journalist and self-taught independent photographer who ignores the natural human instinct to fear the unknown and shy away from uncertainty.

In the fall of 2015, she left her well-paying, but unsatisfying corporate job, to pursue photography and journalism full time. She says she now wakes up each day “on fire to become a better photographer and human and to do the work that matters.”

She is concentrating on documenting human rights and social justice issues, including how violence and war affects individuals and societies.

Staab has just returned from two weeks in Vietnam, chronicling Pittsburgh-area veterans who were visiting the country for the first time since serving there. She also is pursuing a project looking at the continuing impact of Agent Orange.

Her work has taken her throughout Eastern and Western Europe, Africa and the Middle East. She was in the Congo in the fall of 2017 with the American Refugee Committee and is planning to return at the end of this year for the elections.

In the long run

In Pittsburgh, where she now lives, she has undertaken a long-term project with PublicSource on the opioid epidemic. She has been photographing the city’s displaced population for the past five years. And she says she continues to work with Operation Safety Net and Bridge to the Mountains “to humanize our homeless men and woman.”

She has been published in Esquire, Huffington Post, Mashable and on CNN. She also works regularly with Pittsburgh area publications.

Her exhibit at Penn State offers images taken while working in the Zaatari refugee camp, located on the Jordanian/Syrian border.

She will speak on her work as a photojournalist at 12:10 p.m. April 9 in the art gallery.

Her exhibit will include photos of Syrian children that were vandalized during the 2017 Three Rivers Arts Festival .

“We felt it important to include those images. They should generate some conversation regarding why someone would want to damage them, what is happening politically that may have influenced the vandals … etc.,” says Theresa Bonk, director of student affairs.

Staab writes about that experience in a publicsource.org article .

Penelope Kay Morrison, an assistant professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, New Kensington, which includes classes on diversity and examines refugee health in the United States, proposed Staab’s exhibit and visit to the campus.

“Her work really forces you to see people as human beings, with lives, families, friends, feelings, thoughts, hopes and dreams. It places you right there next to the individual, and you are forced to see them, really see them,” Morrison says. “I think we need more of that kind of connectedness. I think, too, her work on displaced persons, both in the U.S. and internationally, sheds a much-needed light on the conditions of war, poverty, urban blight, etc. that render many people homeless.”

Staab hopes that people take the time to consider the lives of the people in her photographs.

“I hope that they can see a bit of themselves in those photos,” Staab says. “I hope that they learn something that they may not have previously known. I hope that my images in some way impact how they think, act, treat others and walk in this world.

“My aspiration is to become as good of a photographer and journalist as I can so that I can do justice to those that allow me into their lives.”

She is highly motivated and passionately committed to making a difference with her photography,” says Dennis Dimick of Arlington, Va., a retired picture editor for National Geographic magazine who taught Staab at a photo workshop at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. “I expect we will hear much more from her in years ahead as she gains experience as a photographer while pursuing more projects that concern her.”

Belief in capacity to change lives

Staab grew up in the Penn-Trafford School District, where she was a straight-A student, distance runner and soccer player, graduating in 2006, and then went on to run for Division 1 Coastal Carolina University, graduating summa cum laude with a business marketing and communications degree in 2010.

Though she excelled at athletics and academics, she felt there was always something missing. She had an ache for more meaning, that no matter what she achieved, could not be satisfied.

Following graduation, she set out backpacking in Europe.

“As I plunged into the world and was welcomed into the lives of others, photographing, writing and making friends that I have to this day, I felt alive and complete in a way that the longest, fastest run never afforded me,” Staab explains.

She says she returned home a changed, “albeit broke young woman,” and quickly secured that well-paying but unsatisfying job.

In 2012, both of her legs were broken in a car accident. In a moment, what had defined her for most of her life — running — was taken away from her.

In that same period, her mother contracted viral encephalitis, an infection of the brain.

“It compromised her short-term memory, erasing the previous 10 years of her life. The illness left her profoundly handicapped, and the experience fractured my family,” Staab says. She has undertaken a long-term project documenting her family “as we navigate her illness,” she says.

Staab became consumed by the reality that nothing in life is certain and that we have but one shot at this existence.

Between 2012 and 2015, she taught herself photography, studied the work of others, bought proper equipment and spent her annual three weeks of vacation each year traveling the world — Uganda twice, Turkey, backpacking from Albania to Croatia, always with a camera in hand and always with a desire to, she says, “better understand.”

“I believe very strongly in following our intuition,” Staab says.

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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