Mei-Chun Jau describes herself as a "closet Texan" who is documenting her hometown. There is no typical day at a big city newspaper. "Anything can happen," Jau says. "As a newspaper photographer, you have to be ready for that." Her shift might start in a skyscraper with a CEO's portrait for the business section, and while there she may get dispatched to a police standoff that could last for hours.

"I like the diversity, that kind of schedule," Jau says. When the more mundane assignments come along, they end up being a welcome break because she often works on "a lot of exhaustive, tear-jerking stories."

Jau, a staff photographer for The Dallas Morning News, was born in Taiwan but has lived most of her life in north Texas. In 2001 she received the Barbara Jordan Media Award for coverage of people with disabilities. Her job is introducing her neighbors to one another through the pages of the newspaper. She helps the community find its identity. "I don't find community news boring."

Over time, she builds relationships with sources, something almost impossible in international journalism. She might go to a fire, and the homeowners recognize her face because they saw her at their children's elementary school. "They trust you," she notes.

Jau specializes in photographing the most vulnerable members of society. "I think it's important to be a good listener."

She spent much of the last two years photographing Egyptian conjoined twins Ahmed and Mohamed Ibrahim, who gained national attention when they were surgically separated in October 2003.

Spending so much time with a family, Jau developed a close relationship with them. The friendship was cross-cultural on many levels. The Ibrahims are devout Muslims. "They know I'm Christian," Jau ...

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