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How can photography really make a positive impact?

How can photography make an impact on social issues? Can it really have a tangible impact? I personally think many photographers are deluding themselves if they really believe their work has a significant impact. Because just publishing photos doesn’t occur in a bubble, and doesn’t do anything on its own.

To really understand what kind of impact photography may have, we have to consider how the publication is connected to other forces at work, otherwise we are not being honest to ourselves: if for an NGO, for example, how are these images going to be used? How are they embedded into a media campaign? We may not, of course, have any influence over decisions on how our pictures are used, but the greatest error is surely to think that just by working for an NGO it makes our work more justified or valuable than it would be otherwise.

In general, we should ask whether are there any decision makers – in business, governmental or non-governmental circles – that will be impressed with the portrayal of the issue (that our images as part of) enough to make change.

I anticipate the retort ‘I am just a photographer, and just get the message out’ but isn’t this a tad lame? Can’t we do more that this? In not, we are photographers because of the medium we use, and we leave everything else up to the experts in the field, whether the issue be AIDS, homelessness, unemployment, etc. But I would like to think that as photographers we can strive for more and be more proactive in our approach.

If we really do care about an issue then surely it is not enough to simply publish photos. I doubt that anyone aiming solely at publication, even in the big magazines, has really thought through the real scope for impact. And to be honest I don’t think many photographers really do. Including most of the top professionals. Sure, photography cannot save the world, but we mustn’t think that we have done the best that we can when we see our images in a mass-circulated magazine with an albeit great reputation.

A big mistake, made by most ‘social issue’ photographers, is surely thinking that publishing these issues in magazines or even books is sufficient, and will make the best possible impact. Especially when their books have no relation to any organization conducting work that would benefit their subjects. Surely it makes sense, if you want your work to have the most impact, to connect it to such organizations? I think it’s simply not enough to claim “its making people aware”. Who? And how many people, which kind of people, with which kind of decision making power to change what? I can’t help thinking for some, its just feeding egos. They’d be better off doing fashion or sport.

There are many kind of photographers, and sure, not all of them profess to care about making positive changes, but for those of us who are not content just to rasise awareness in the mainstream media, we have to start thinking out of the box, because photography and the media does not occur in a box, and most photographers have not even begun to take seriously how photography may be connected to real interventions that make real impact on the disadvantaged.

I’d like to open up the discussion and request from anyone any ideas relating to, or awareness of any photography that is used in an innovative, practical way to make positive impacts on the disadvantaged. I don’t have the answers, and to a large extent this post is my attempt to confront my own frustrations and limits. But it would be interesting to hear about examples of:

- how photography has been used to promote positive change,
- how publications have been connected to concrete projects which benefit the disadvantaged,
- any assessments that have been made to gauge the impact of photography on stimulating change (suspect its very hard to measure)

by Damon Lee Perry at 2006-04-17 22:29:21 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) Beijing , China | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Since you decided to move this to its own thread, a good move by the way, I figured I would copy what I wrote on the original thread and expand a bit on it.

I think you are quite right to point out that simply publishing images in a magazine is usually not enough to promote change, or even provoke some thought about a particular issue (though sometimes it is). We forget that much newsprint is gulped between the commuter’s slugs of Starbucks coffee and gobs of donuts. I have come to think that if one is working on an issue that requires change, then one must explore a variety of different media and strategies to get that message out, promote discussion, and advertise the problem. This can be done in many ways. Lately, because of some grants that I have gotten in order to continue my work on the sugar plantations here, I have realized that there’s a whole gamut of approaches we can take: for example, the OSI now has what they call a “Documentary Distribution Grant” that seeks to disseminate the work in novel ways so as to intervene more effectively: its winners have come up with some pretty interesting ways of circulating their imagery. Myself, I arranged an exhibition that is now in its third phase, in the process of being expanded and set for a tour of the country (DR). In addition, a multimedia slideshow is being prepared that will be distributed to secondary schools, law schools, medical schools, and other institutions in order to target audiences in a more direct fashion. The exhibition was also used to target specific groups, and we had school children, tourists, scholars, all sorts of people corralled into the event. I am convinced after seeing the results of this very direct form of education that it is only habit and/or lack of imagination that is preventing photojournalists from exploiting other means of distribution. True, we all think of the internet and the potentially vast number of viewers, but without decent linkage and so on, those numbers remain a distant ideal, since most browsers wont find their way to your site. Therefore I think this targetted approach is one way to go. Certainly a good NGO with a developed publicity dept can work wonders in this area.

To sum up, targeting your audience more effectively is one way of evading the doldrums of the morning commuters’ read and commanding a more engaged audience. In schools and at exhibitions (which neednt be your usual artsy wine sipping crowd but can be “engineered” in various ways to avoid all that) you have a captive audience already disposed to look and listen and reflect. I am targeting law schools, for example, because that way I can reach the next generation of Human Rights lawyers. The med schools, because I can reach the next generation of social medicine practitioners. The secondary schools, because I can reach the next generation of young Dominicans and Haitians and convince them to put aside the ethnic hatred that bedevils their elders. Hey, I am not about to change the world, but you would be surprised how many seeds you can plant in this manner, and how rich the harvest thereafter. I learned this as a teacher, in a past life, and it strikes me as a good strategy for today’s photojournalists.

by Jon Anderson | 17 Apr 2006 22:04 (ed. Apr 17 2006) | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Fascinating reply Jon – great to know there are people exploring imaginative ways of using photography for positive change. I think its fair to say though that the media channels one uses are one thing and the objectives of using those channels are another. You seem to be using an interesting mix of channels and have proper objectives. Re. objectives – this is where photography has to really become conscious, by linking with the goals of real projects combatting real issues. We can, as photographers, surely make productive connections with NGOs, governmental organizations, and even businesses, to tackle social and enviornmental issues, in a more procative capacity.

by Damon Lee Perry | 17 Apr 2006 23:04 | Beijing, China | | Report spam→
Absolutely, but do be careful when you choose your partners (NGOs, aid organizations, whatever). My initial foray into this kind of dedicated distribution or “marketing” of ideas was almost a disaster because I was a little too enthusiastic at first and I didnt carefully review the abilities, experience and resources of my first “partner.” Generally the bigger the NGO, the better the partner in terms of experience, labor and resources. That said, however, I think there are many NGOs out there that dont spring instantly to mind and a bit of research on one’s part, particularly on the local ground where the story resides, can lead to all kinds of possibilities. I mean we all know about UNICEF, UNHCR, MSF, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, but there are many good organizations who are less well known but do splendid work. At the moment, I am working in cooperation with the Open Society, Plan International, and a group called FLACSO (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales). There are other local groups involved as well, but they are not running anything. So you need to investigate matters the same way you would investigate the groundwork for a story, or the character of a magazine you might approach, etc. And you never know, after you develop a long relationship, you might succeed in proposing new projects and having them foot the bill to some extent.

The success so far of the current initiative is such that, without overstating the case, I am looking forward to developing more arrangements along these lines and tackling other themes with the same umbrella approach.

by Jon Anderson | 17 Apr 2006 23:04 (ed. Apr 17 2006) | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Possibly not the type of answer you are after, but everytime an image tears my heart open, and lingers in my mind I think it creats positive change. But does this directly help the disadvantaged? Maybe..maybe by some universal grip of compassion, through the power of caring, through the prayers that get prayed for the freedom from suffering for all. Certainly a single image, or a single story, has often changed my behavior, and my actions for the intended benefit of another. I feel that the one being photographed may have been changed just for knowing that they have been seen, that someone may sit with their pain though miles away. Caring and compassion are not shelter, or food or clean water or safety, but I believe they give an unquantifiable measure of peace.

by [former member] | 17 Apr 2006 23:04 (ed. Apr 18 2006) | Brooklyn, NY, United States | | Report spam→
This is a great question, Damon.
It is great to know also there are people who think about responsibilities as a photographer. I really loved that you give us Time magazine as an example. I though about Time out of blue, let us think that who subscribes Time magazine? Mostly, who are the readers of Time magazine? What do wall-street people read? Isn’t time magazine a member of AOL that also relevant CNN? Didn’t CNN play key role at first gulf war? I am really aware how these companies have shameful role in our time. What would change, when you get publishing in Time magazine? NOTHING!!! You will only have career to put your resume and some money!!!
I just want to give some examples from social documentary photography history.
Eddie Adams affected the course of Vietnam War with his photograph of an execution without trial in the middle of a Saigon street.
Let us think about pictures of Charles Moore about racism and discrimination against black people in the southern America.
Best social documentary photographer, Eugene Smith, had created a series about the irrevocable damage to the health of local people and the ecology by mercury poisoning from industrial waste in Japan’s Minimata gulf.
And finally, Sebastiao Salgado appeared to photography world he showed to world how the primitive labour force and production methods of the early industrial revolution are still continuing in third world countries. He shared the proceeds from the sale of his book and the photographs with the landless peasants, was he a utopian socialist or just a photographer?
What does Eduardo Galeano say about pictures of Salgado in one of his book?
" Are these photographs, these figures of tragic grandeur, carvings in stone or wood by a sculptor in despair? Was the sculptor the photographer? Or good? Or devil? Or earthly reality?
This much is certain: it would be difficult to look at these figures and remain unaffected. I cannot imagine anyone shrugging his shoulder, turning away unseeing, and sauntering off, whistling."
Kind poetry from Eduardo!!!

Why am I giving these examples? All these examples have been engraved on the human memory and achieved something. There were people that affected by photographs, books and leaders. They were thinking about social issues and on human conditions.

Nowadays, meanwhile, we live in era where people seek friends on imaginary world, people affected by mass media, live means for them just having fun. Life is good with your ipod and car. Life is good with having lunch at Mc Murder. Life is good with friends. Life is good with having fun between legs. Life is good without thinking about problems. Now, we have seeing photographers who cover child labour force issue in east-Asia with while wearing Nike shoes; we have seen photographers who cover coffee workers in Latin America and Africa while having coffee from big coffee companies instead of “Fair Trade” coffee.

Times have changed? There are no more magazines that seek long-term photo projects. They don’t want to publish pictures that might make potential customer feel bad next to expensive cars, perfumes advertised. They want social photography to turn like an empty shell with salable and sparkling photographs. I don’t know where I live. I am not very optimist about social documentary photography.

Well, some photographers can make impact on people and in history.

How, how, how…. Let me first be a respectful, honest, modest, realist, activist, humanist, anti-racist, anti-fascist, Fair Trade supporter, anti Sweatshop consumer, anti-consumerist, consume less photographer ………….. go on, go on
First find that who you are and where do you stand, and start working for people and social documentary photography.
Well, ok. Karl Marx was fu……. his housemaid :) :) But he is the guy in history :)

I don’t think I respond well, I just got these to tell you guys. I love to talk about sources of social issues, instead of results.

Jon you rock, again everybody loves you :) :)
Bests, ALI

by [former member] | 18 Apr 2006 00:04 (ed. Apr 18 2006) | Toronto, Canada | | Report spam→
Damon, you wanted some examples of how photography has been used to promote social change. Well I have a nice little story: I spent 8 days with romanian refugees stuck in Hungary some years back. They were desperate to get to the West. I had the story published in the french daily Liberation. The guys, after crawling under barbed wires, running from dogs, crossing borders in the boot of a car, eventually managed to reach Paris and got in touch with me as I happened to be there at that time. They seemed to be at the end of the line and were going to start trying to get refugee status in France. So I paid them a few nights in a small hotel and gave them a copy of the newspaper. They then disappeared. Until several months later I received a postcard from San Diego. One of the refugees managed to achieve his dream in life (OK maybe not really my own dream of social achievement but hey, it’ s their choice): to get the green card and live in the US. He wrote me that he showed the publication in Liberation to the immigration agents to support his story. Now he runs a fitness center. I must say this was the only time that I know of some pictures of mine really achieved something.

That was several years back, at a time when Liberation was running two, four, even six pages on a story (remember it is a daily!). Today I am not so sure I or my pictures achieve something (it is difficult to have them published, I never have feedback). One thing I am nearly convinced about (don’t remember who said that) is that if my pictures don’t change the world, the world would be changed without my (your) pictures. And if I am disillusioned about the press and the way they use my pictures (they mostly don’t which in fact only hurts my ego), in some kind of irrational way I still carry on. I guess it has to do with downscaling the ambition: communicate with 500 is maybe better than sprinkle over 500000. We are not necessarily mass communicators anymore but we still have power. The power of telling stories in a very particular and relatively universal way, the power of explaining, the power of communicating, the power of itching. I’m beginning to think we are like water: we (the heroic and broke documentary photographers) will find ways to seep through the dam until it breaks.

by [former member] | 18 Apr 2006 03:04 | his house, Cambodia | | Report spam→
Public exhibitions, for sure…and I mean PUBLIC.
I agree with all above, and as John points towards, we are in the communication business- we have to find other and alternative avenues/methods, something that most of us and this business has been poor at, still trapped in the golden days of the print press…..
I was involved a couple of years back with Tom Stoddart’s iWITNESS project, designing the book but also helping to conceive and design the public exhibition. We erected 30 odd, 4 sided 12ft towers on a prime location on the south bank of the Thames in London, just next to Tower Bridge and across from the financial city. It had never been done before in London, never at that location and probably never again a show of such powerful photojournalism. The exhibition ran for 3 months after being extended through the summer. It was completely open air and accessible 24hr.
What blew us away, and to be honest humbled and made me believe again in a crappy business, was the PUBLIC’s response. This was not people from the business, preaching to the converted, this was Mr and Mrs Smith walking along the river and coming across the show, whether they be on their lunch break, tourists, locals…whatever. 4 huge visitor books filled, video interviews we shot, Tom constantly there talking with people all smacked us in the face with people’s huge desire and appetite to see such pictures and more importantly to be moved by them…..We regularly had people physically moved and crying……if just one of those people went away and did ‘something’, in their lifes or someone elses, then a difference was made……….
I also think that this is hugely important happening in the so called ‘1st world’ – at the end of the day, this is the start of the chain, where most change can often be made, so pricking a fucking conscience here can make a huge difference…….(don’t get me wrong, I’m all for taking the work back to the source and trying to make a difference on the ground as Jon says with his DR work and knowing Tim Hetherington, I’m a fan of his efforts in this approach…but i just sometimes wonder just what the ‘imapct’ is…..?)
Stills continue to be the medium that resonate in peoples minds…even snapshots or mobile phone images as recent events have showed………as John says, we just have to keep finding ways to get the damn things through…………

by Steve Coleman | 18 Apr 2006 04:04 | Bkk, Thailand | | Report spam→
The Abu Ghraib snapshots had a massive effect on people, if not necessarily on policy.

As for Vietnam, people say the work of Philip Jones Griffiths, Eddie Adams (
who said that two people died in the making of the execution photograph) and many, many others
had an effect on ending the Vietnam War.

Now I think it is the control and censorship of images and the images people don’t show that has more
of an effect on what people think or don’t think. And the use of images to promote negative
change is always interesting. But like Damon says, how do you measure that change? Good question – anyone got any
answers for that one.

by Colin Pantall | 18 Apr 2006 05:04 | Bath, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Measuring the change can swing from the obvious to the abstract.

I feel it would be delusional and naive if a photographer thought his or her photographs would or could change the world but have a imapct (at times) I believe this is still alive and well. I also believe photography is still ‘drumming’ the message that informs and illuminates peoples thinking throughout the world and personally it scares me to consider a world where photographers images which are so laden with information should fall ‘quite’ this seems are far worse and flawed world then then the one that exists now.

I have many stories on a micro level where my images/reportage have had a positive impact on people both in the short term and the long term but I won’t bore you with them but I will tell you just one of these stories because it is quite funny on some levels and resulted in a long term positive impact on the people involved.

After extended and long negotiations with a SPLA rebel commander in Nairobi I was granted permission to fly right into the eye of a war torn region of Sudan where no photojournalists or journalists had been given access for over fifteen years however there was a catch. The catch was that the commander was demanding that I take in a shipment of arms on my charted DC-3.for him as a trade for giving me the access to the region I wanted to visit. After further protracted and animated dialogue with the commander explaining to him that this was compromising and just leaning a little to the side of unethical for me as a photojournalist I suggested to him that I could take medicine for his people and he finally agreed. I was relived that he agreed and that I still had the access to the region I wanted to visit however a little disappointed that my first chance as a gun runner would not to get off the ground. The idea kind of appealed to me…. as the ‘bad boy’ in a James Bond movie kind of way.

Several days later on the apron of the airport my plane was ready to go but no shipment of medicine had arrived. I am forced to fly without it.

After being in the region for several weeks living and documenting the local people (The Nuba) I am forced to leave because I had contracted malaria. On my one hundred and twenty mile walk out I pass villiage after villiage with poverty stricken people who had also contracted malaria of whom many where dying. These people were living in a very original way, no roads, no electricty and had been driven into extreme poverty by the Khartoum goverment who had oppressed them.

Back in Nariobi I went to see various NGO’s one of whom was MSF and told them of the dire circumstances these people where in. This resulting in MSF flying emergency suppies (especially anti-malarial drugs) into the area and soon after resultled in them implementing a long term project in the region.

It is not that easy and sometimes simply impossible to change thins on a govermental level (but at times it is possible as in the examples Colin gives above) but there is allot that can be done on a micro level to have impact, indeed a positive and rewarding impact on people we photograph that can be profound.

Everybody looks at the top of the mountain but at times it is good to look at the foot of the mountain, things can be found there as well.

by [former member] | 18 Apr 2006 07:04 | Bangkok, Thailand | | Report spam→
Steve, I agree with you totally, and let me say that while the Open Society grant is intended to bring the material back to the home ground, I am myself attacking this thing on both fronts, i.e., at home on my little island (including both Haiti and DR) as well as back in the States, in Europe, and on the web etc. In fact, I am pushing like mad to get this thing published, broadcast, and passed around where and whenever I can. The reason being is that sometimes a well placed article can in fact work some wonders, and I witnessed this just this past fall. Ginger Thompson of the NY Times came down here to review the situation of the Haitian migrant workers and published her findings in the paper. That article caused such an uproar down here that the pundits and govt people were talking about it for months afterward. While they almost unanimously agreed that the piece was a sham and even came to believe and argue publicly that Ginger had never even come down here, the results of having such a critical piece published in an organ like the Times were that the govt began to press more concertedly and aggressively for legislative changes. While the plight of these “refugees” continues, the govt has been put on notice and they know it. We have to keep pushing, keeping agitating, but there is no doubt that journalism still has fire.

I tell you this: if Ginger’s piece had been given a real bangup presentation with a complete photo essay, it really would have knocked people’s sox off.

by Jon Anderson | 18 Apr 2006 07:04 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Yeah, spot on…..Tell you, and imagine – having worked with PJG closely, if he, and journalists/photographers etc like him, held positions of authority/power in goverments, we would be in a much different world……that’s an obvious point I know, but its about a state of mind – having that fire to keep pushing as hard as you say, in all different directions, through all the crap – to provoke…..otherwise, its wallpaper and ego no….?

by Steve Coleman | 18 Apr 2006 08:04 | Bkk, Thailand | | Report spam→
There is the aesthetics of an image which carries a message more swiftly to a viewer. Not forgetting photography is also a means of artistic expression as well as a craft and a documentary, social and political tool. Thinking along these lines, you have a rather different channel to reach people with.

The power and visual language of photography is quite unique, and it is this uniqueness that allows it be one of the most powerful communicative mediums we have, except for TV. So I think the characteristics that photography has, will always ensure that it can change opinions, thought, views and worlds because of what it is. Think how many paintings you have viewed in your life compared to photographic images? This now puts photography very high indeed in the art stakes, and don’t forget that art is a social reflection and a commentator too.

Photography must stand alone and understand that it informs, educates and enlightens peoples lives in a way that a politician cannot not, but don’t expect it to be something it is not, rather, understand what it does do very well indeed.

by Andrew Robert Fox | 18 Apr 2006 09:04 | Coventry, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Jack, that was a great post. Excellent.

by Jon Anderson | 18 Apr 2006 09:04 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Thanks for all your comments, everyone.

Jon, well done on the project you are working on. Agree totally that you need to be careful when selecting an NGO to work with. The usual issue with NGOs, in any case I think, is the budgets they have for photography, and of course shared expectations as to its use. Maybe worth noting that the development organizations sometimes have rules for engaging photographers which vary from country to country; UNICEF in China for example does not hire foreign photographers.

Ali, I agree that some photographers have made a significant impact, though don’t you agree it has become increasingly more difficult to do so? I think this is more to do with developments in information technology (including the advent of TV) and also the amount of competing visual imagery in circulation. Whatever our political stance re. the Iraq War, I think the issue here is of how photography can be employed to make positive change.

I didn’t want to say magazines can’t or don’t have an impact; my point wasn’t really to criticize magazines, but more to draw attention to ways in which photography can be used to effect beneficial results for social issues, and how we, as photographers who consciously want to do more than just publish in magazines, can maximize the impact of photography.

I really asked this since I began to question myself. Rather than find issues I am interested in, or unconsciously shoot what I value when the opportunity arises, I want to take my photography in a more consciously driven direction, and want to open up the issue of what strategies might best work for this.

John, I like your story; it must have been really satisfying to have heard how your photo essay changed this person’s life. I agree that communicating with a smaller but more specialist audience is preferable to communicating with a mass, non-specific audience. Do you work with any NGOs or development agencies in Cambodia? I am sure there isn’t a shortage of them in Pnom Penh.

Steve, nice to hear about Tom’s exhibition and the impact on the public. I tried to find the website but it seemed down. I agree that ‘concerned’ photographers should continue to work away in the West, raising awareness of important issues. But still think that targeted awareness-raising is the key, wherever possible with clear objectives for awareness-raising. This is what the big NGOs do – awareness raise and fundraise in Europe and USA, for example, whilst having projects ongoing in the field, where people need the support they provide.

Anyone wishing to see Tom’s iWitness featured on the Digital Journalist website can click here. There is also an interesting discussion on Photo.Net re. Tom’s iWitness: click here.

Yes, Jack, excellent point made: changes made at the micro, grass roots, level are just as important than those made at the macro, institutional, level. I think its also worth noting: media companies use photos to sell newspapers and magazines; NGOs and development organizations use photos, and the media, to raise awareness of issues to validate their causes, boost their profiles, attracting funding, and thus continue the work that they do.

Photography is, in its raw form, information, and like all information its use determines its value, whether it is used to generate profit or funding. Its up to us how we wish to use the medium for whatever aims, and upon whatever ethics, we have. I just think that photography is not understood as much as it could be as a tool for social change, but understanding it perhaps requires an appreciation of the way in which NGOs, development agencies, governments and the business sector function with relation to the media and micro or grass roots level, where the ultimate stakeholders are.

by Damon Lee Perry | 18 Apr 2006 10:04 (ed. Apr 18 2006) | Beijing, China | | Report spam→
Information, very true……

Yeah sorry, the iWITNESS site is currently being rebuilt….
As Damon says, the basics are here on the DJ, including a lo-res vid. http://www.digitaljournalist.org/issue0409/stoddart_intro.html

Thank Damon

by Steve Coleman | 18 Apr 2006 10:04 | Bkk, Thailand | | Report spam→
“Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man.”

Edward Steichen

by Andrew Robert Fox | 18 Apr 2006 10:04 | Coventry, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
small but signifigant:


by [former member] | 18 Apr 2006 11:04 | England, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
First off, successfull photography is not information, that’s a job for traffic cameras.

Secondly, before you can change anything you have to make good pictures. Understand? Great work… then change. Of course the first thing to change, if you approach this work properly, will be yourself.

Great work will always influence viewers, if it doesn’t have an impact it’s not great. No excuses.

John Vink shared an example of his work helping his subjects. This is not rare, happens (on some level) quite often. The photographer, thankfully for the sake of humility, usually never hears about the postitive impact of their work.

John, although I love and respect your work, I don’t understand why in the course of your story you felt the need to take a swipe at the USA (or maybe southern California). Would it be acceptable to add a disclaimer if you were talking about a refugee’s enthusiasm after escaping Zimbabwe over his new life in Mozambique?

Speaking of swipes, I’ll take one at Ali Riza. Every one of your post seems to have a nasty leftist tone. If you don’t like McDonald’s, do what I do, don’t eat there. But on the other hand, realize that McDonald’s coming to the former Soviet Union did play a small role in the fall of that dictatorship. When their first “restaurant” opened in Moscow it was a beacon from the western freedom to the tens of thousands of people who waited in line to eat there every day. I know it sound crazy. Maybe it’s a feeling that we can’t really understand, but don’t belittle or make fun of people that enjoyed that little escape from communism.

I was riding a train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg about twenty years ago. Across the compartment was a young women with a single can of coke sitting next to her on the seat. This was a small treasure that she was bringing back from the west to her family in the Soviet Union. Should I have lectured her about the evils of coporate america or maybe how bad sugar is for her teeth?

Letting people be themselves and capturing that, regardless of your own ideals is one of the secrets of good work.

Finally, I can only imagine that you really dig what’s happening down at Quantanamo, although it falls infinitly short of the work inspired by your man Karl Marx.

Boy, I’m a little fiesty this morning.

Here’s an idea. If you’re thinking about working with NGOs and hate money, the USA, or Americans in general, before you work with any NGOs, check their donor lists. If the highest percentage of their budget comes from corporations, U.S. taxpayers or directly from Americans, maybe you should try to get your funding elsewhere.

Really, I should apologize to you Ali, because what has really got me going is the false premise that started this post.

The person that most benefits from the photographer’s work (insert your favorite photo saint here) is the photographer.

Yep. Furthermore, it’s not the photographer’s job to actually help people. You are there as a witness. Your only responsibility to your subjects is to make the best pictures of them and their plight that you possible can. (Salgado had a crate of grapefruit in the back of his truck in Ethiopia. He ate them himself.)

Unless you are a real doctor and a bad photographer it’s best if you just try to make great images and stay out of the way. Sure, there are exceptions, if you can immediately save a life of course you do.

Positive change, interesting phrase. Something we all strive for while dealing with the great photojournalist paradox.

You haven’t heard?

The better your images become, the more your images are about you and the person viewing the images, and less about the actual subject. I’ll work on that, it needs to sound a little snappier, but true none the less. The trick is to somehow be great without overpowering the subject. Make sense?

Be the best person you can and you might become the best photographer you can, no guarantees. I will guarantee this, if you make great images you will make some good. Maybe it’s not an accident that Salgado didn’t take up photography until he was 35 and also had something to say.

All the best,

by Kenneth Jarecke | 18 Apr 2006 13:04 | Montana, United States | | Report spam→
Boy, I’m a little fiesty this morning.

Ha! boy I’ll say! I want a cup of that java you’re drinking! But nothing wrong with that, the post is excellent and full of sound reasoning. However false the premise of the OP, it has led to some solid thoughts on the subject here.

The better your images become, the more your images are about you and the person viewing the images, and less about the actual subject.

I couldnt agree more. It is just one of the basic paradoxes that defines our practice. Another point, grapefruits in Ethiopia: well, as one photographer whom I esteem once said to me: “you are no good to anyone if you enter into one of these situations, and for lack of planning or for misplaced sympathies for those starving around you, you end up starving too and getting ill.” (not his exact words but close enough).

I agree that primarily we are witnesses, that is our main task and that is no mean thing; it is quite quite important. I didnt mention this in my post because I was focussed on explaining the OSI initiative and the possibilities for doing more than just publishing in a magazine. Let me see if I can explain this right: I see what I do as a kind of educational enterprise, I am there to open up people’s minds and hearts. If I can do that best by going beyond the media (which often wont deign to publish what i wish to disseminate and sometimes for perfectly understandable reasons), then I am going to exploit those other avenues of approach. Because of my background in pedagogy I tend to think like a teacher when it comes to communicating ideas, so these avenues are a natural recourse for me.

As for creating change vs witnessing, well there are many things I photograph that i dont want to change, or in fact I am sorry to see them being changed. Many stories that interest me have nothing to do with grave human rights abuses or social inequities or political abuses, and so on. They are just stories about the way we live. But there are others where i see the need for change, and if I can somehow promote that change, or at the very least provoke a bit of enlightened thought on the matter, by “intervening” in various ways a la OSI Distribution grant or by working with NGOs to advertise a particular problem and so on, well then I feel obliged to help out and will do so to the extent that I can.

I draw the line at “advocacy,” though, if I understand the use of that term correctly. I definitely have my point of view, I dont think I am any good without it, and I certainly will push for change when I see fit, but I am not sure I like the idea of being described as an advocate. The term is too slippery and obscures what it is we really do.

by Jon Anderson | 18 Apr 2006 14:04 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
hi davin,i am very happy to read about marcus bleasdale’s work. thank you for posting it here. i will sit and read it again later tonight … hi jon, thank you also for the discussion on your work and how you are doing your own thing. it inspires me as well. i always read your posts even if i don’t always understand all of it."advocacy’ is a word that’s very interesting when used with photography. but why do you not agree to using it to describe your work? i hope it’s a good shooting time in DR. kat

by Kat Palasi | 18 Apr 2006 21:04 | island-hopping, Philippines | | Report spam→
you mean my photographs of cute kids and smiling workers aren’t going to change world???? damn! and all that work….


as a young idealistic photographer raised on a steady and influential diet of hines, frank, salgado, evans and even adams (who used his images to help establish yosemite, etc), i have always believed that an image can change a mind (which is a very difficult and precarious thing to do). however, the reality, which this discussion hammers homes very nicely, reminds me that i am, and have happily been, a young idealist photographer with grand ideas of helping change the world. i have even gone so far as to turn down work with an international picture agency becasue ‘i prefer to document the beauty in life, not the ugliness’. ???!!!! ;)

i totally agree that there needs to be more push and innovation from the photographer than just getting the images published. i think that you must be more than just a witness, but that being an advocate has it’s own baggage. this is such an important subject and i’m so happy and releived that this forum exists for it’s discussion. i only wish we were all sitting at the same table, beers in hand, seeing eye to eye and talking….

but coming from a social documentary background (not war chasing journalist mind you….leave that stuff to the young, unmarried and reckless!), and working for an international ngo for the last 5 years, i still believe that photography is one of the most important and perfect mediums of communications for this modern, multi-language world. it seems the question remains, who are you going to show them to?

thanks for this great discussion! i hope it continues. personally, this is probably one of the most poignent and important questions i’ve seen on lightstalkers in long time!

humble and hungry,


by Jason Sangster | 18 Apr 2006 21:04 | Lhasa, China | | Report spam→
Kenneth, thanks for your comments; agree, the post was not intended to spark a discussion of corporate America or U.S. foriegn policy. I didn’t want to bite the bait. But I disagree with you re. the supposedly “false premise that started this post,” which you recount as “The person that most benefits from the photographer’s work (insert your favorite photo saint here) is the photographer”. The premise was that if we want to help effect change, most likely for the subjects of our photography but not necessarily so, we can do more than simply publish images in magazines. The question of what can be done does not rest upon the basis of who benefits. I am not interested in the question of ‘who’ but ‘how’. I hope this was clear from my intitial post and apologize if it riled you. True, “it’s not the photographer’s job to actually help people”. I didn’t say it was. I am making an enquiry, from the point of view of one kind of photographer, and not speaking for all photoraphers, into what can be achieved with photography for the benefit of others. Sure, you are there as a witness, but what you are witnessing, how you are witnessing, and how, and with who, you share your images is surely crucial to making the best possible impact. I still think the use of images, especially for the benefit of the disadvantaged, and therefore photographers’ relations with the media, NGOs, government organizations and the corporate sector, is an undervalued and seldom discussed issue. Perhaps as photographers we often forget, or don’t know how to best to, connect our work with that of others in a way that is beneficial for us as photographers, civic society organizations, and of course the subjects themselves.

by Damon Lee Perry | 18 Apr 2006 22:04 (ed. Apr 18 2006) | Beijing, China | | Report spam→
Dear Masters,
I am not a utopian socialist or Marxist. I wish I could but I am not. Because, I live like any person who wants to have credit cards, big cars, mortgage, family, kids, travel every year in five stars hotel, suits, shining shoes, expensive watch, huge bank accounts, dinner every night at different restaurant, etc. like you.
Damon, I am in agreement with you what you are saying. It has become more difficult to make impact on people. Why? Because people affected by mass media, pop culture, fast food culture, movie stars, money, cars, ipods, etc…. People see the pictures of dead children everyday; they just look at pictures and then pictures gone in their brain. Why Isn’t it obvious?
As Collin said: The Abu Ghraib snapshots had a massive effect on people, if not necessarily on policy.
As for Vietnam, people say the work of Philip Jones Griffiths, Eddie Adams (
who said that two people died in the making of the execution photograph) and many, many others had an effect on ending the Vietnam War.

Why cannot Abu Ghraib pictures end the war? Or why don’t these pictures make an impact on families of American soldiers? People believe what Collin Powel says, people don’t believe others. People believe whom they voted. War is just business. Anyways, I am going to repeat myself.

Dear Ken;. I agree what you said about Soviet Union, but let me add this why Soviet Union collapsed, because; while people line up for “free” bread under minus 30 without shoes and coats, some big brothers were using nice cars to get home with suits and shining shoes. Well, everything was free but there was no equality. This is little detail but it is good enough to explain why Soviet Union collapsed. Now, I hope that Russians are aware what western life is. However, your incredible dead Iraqi man picture had created big sensation in USA. Am I right? But, why didn’t it help war to end? Your picture is not very different than picture of Eddie Adams. May be, just because we were in 90s.

When I was 10 years old, I was thinking that eating at Mc Donald’s was a great thing. Now, I don’t eat fast food for a very long time, I like to have dinner in small restaurants and cook. I never blame anybody because of her/his decision. Let them think in freedom. Let countries decide to their future. They don’t need to big brothers to bring “democracy”. They don’t need aid; they need fair trade and freedom. They want to survive themselves.

As a person, forget you are a photographer, is it hard to choose fair trade coffee? Is it hard to wear different brand shoes? Is it hard to take care of recycle issue in your town? Is it hard to be a respectful person?

I don’t think that I can change the world. My responsibility is just making people aware about world. And make people think that why social issues are happening. As John experience, it should be great for you, to save one person’s life. I hope this person is happy with his everything.

I become more optimists and am going to say that, if I can make one person aware about what I photograph, my job is done. And I think I made many people aware about civil war that occurred in Kurdistan and Turkey. My conscience is ok. I am still trying to make people aware about it with slide presentations and exhibitions. Do I make money? NO. NO. That’s no problem. I am about to create a new solo exhibition in Switzerland in July. I hope more people will learn something about that civil war which is still continuing in Kurdistan and Turkey. Can I bring back over 3500 burned down villages or life of three million internally displaced Kurdish people and thirty thousand dead?No!!!!

Finally, I think that Salgado owing his great pictures to his economist background. He is an observer, he knows what trade is, and he knows what culture is in Latin America or Africa. (Let me add this I am not a fan of Salgado’s pictures)
I am optimist for Photojournalism but for Social Documentary photography not.
I know one thing is that I just have to keep going and keep going. No way. Life is good with photography. :) :)

All the best


by [former member] | 18 Apr 2006 23:04 (ed. Apr 18 2006) | Toronto, Canada | | Report spam→
As photographers were all blessed with the same gift and work towards a similar common cause. I think the majority of discussions and topics on this site sway towards photojournalism which is not a bad thing and I find it educating, but it should not alienate other photographic persuits. I am not a photojournalist, far from it, and I’m still working out what buttons do bloody what in my lightstalker page, but that does not make mine nor anybody else’s opinion wrong, invalid, masterly or out of sorts. After all, we are all committing light to film (or chips) and seeing the world though a lens, so keep taking images what ever your persuasion is and if you do this well and with all your heart, then your images will begin to speak something…I guess.

A jolly healthy deabte nonetheless but you guys calm down now, and if this carries on, then a seminar will be called in Paris for all to attend, and an evaluative paper drawn up in conclusion….PHD Thesis anyone?….Now can somebody bloody tell me how I get my images to stay in the right order on my gallery!!

by Andrew Robert Fox | 19 Apr 2006 02:04 | Bell End, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
“As photographers were all blessed with the same gift and work towards a similar common cause” - Andrew, thanks for comments, but have to disagree on that point. Photography is just a medium, and beyond using the same medium, I think its fair to say that there is no similar or common cause to which photographers work. I don’t think photographers are all blessed with the same gift either. This isn’t a problem, because why should we all want to strive toward the same thing, and why shouldn’t there be a variety of relationships with the camera, or different levels of skill, involvement or commitment? Diversity is what makes photography so interesting. I just wanted to explore the limits of photography’s usefulness for others, and am keen to learn from others’ experiences as to how photos might be put to effective use, which of course includes, though is not limited to, publication in newspapers, magazines and books.

What I think is important, and often neglected, are the connections between publication, awareness-raising, and impact on the ground. I don’t have a problem with art or travel photographers who are magnetized to social issues, as long as they are honest with their motivations and objectives. Its one thing to create art with social themes, publish your photos in books and magazines, and in this sense draw attention to those issues, but quite another to put photography to the benefit of the disadvantaged, with the conscious aim of doing so.

Whilst awareness-raising is important, I don’t think it has to stop there. Beyond the crucial use of images in awareness-raising campaigns for noble causes, there must be a range of other uses to which photography can be put, such as in education and training, that have not yet been fully optimized. By perhaps better understanding the social issues we photograph, and making links with (or indeed creating) organizations that actively help people affected by these issues, we might be in a better position to direct our awareness-raising to concrete objectives that help people.

The questions then become ‘why are we raising awareness? whose awareness? what will this awareness lead to? will it lead to action that address specific problems?’ Difficult, I know. I am not saying that all photographers, nor all photojournalists, should ask these questions, let alone answer them, though I am just trying to push this line of enquiry to its limit to see where it can go, partly to inform my own actions, since I want to do more than publish.

For now, it would still be great to hear of more examples of how photography has helped people’s lives. Maybe then we can make a list of the ways in which photography might make a positive impact. A tentative list might include:

1. Awareness-raising through publications / exhibitions, in order to:
a) raise funds for NGOs etc
b) boost the profile of the issue to influence policy/law
c) influence the public
2. Contributions from book sales to NGOs or other civic society organizations
3. Workshops in schools, again awareness-raising, to influence behaviour
4. Training workshops for local communities to record (photograph) the issues as they affect them directly, in order to raise awareness of issues at the grass roots level, perhaps influencing behaviour

by Damon Lee Perry | 19 Apr 2006 04:04 (ed. Apr 19 2006) | Beijing, China | | Report spam→
thanks Damon – but I meant presenting 2D representations of the world around us using the physics, craft, mechanics and art that is photography. We do all do that, right? (just an all round lighthearted kind a thing to say that’s all)

Sorry if I’m a little off par with the thread, but I’m a firm ‘do er’ when it comes to issues like this. Photographers take photographs, and I think, whilst it is good to stop and examine ones progression; looking too much at something may be the exact reason whilst you are raising the question about it not happening. You are an unique image maker all of his own, you are doing more than publish. Create your pictures and let your pictures speak before you do about what they are and the impact they are having. You may be surprised.

by Andrew Robert Fox | 19 Apr 2006 05:04 | The Custard Factory, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
I live like any person who wants to have credit cards, big cars, mortgage, family, kids, travel every year in five stars hotel, suits, shining shoes, expensive watch, huge bank accounts, dinner every night at different restaurant, etc. like you.

I think you have the wrong people in mind here Ali! Not too many people on LS have huge bank accounts, eat in different restaurants every night, or stay in Five Star hotels (more like hovels in third world shitholes!), or even desire such things. They would have picked a different career if they did.

I did have an expensive watch once. I had to sell it.

It has become more difficult to make impact on people. Why? Because people affected by mass media, pop culture, fast food culture, movie stars, money, cars, ipods, etc…. People see the pictures of dead children everyday; they just look at pictures and then pictures gone in their brain. Why Isn’t it obvious?

Actually I dont think it is so obvious and I am not sure that your thesis is correct. Course we hear this sort of thing all the time: image overload, apathy, mass media stultification, etc. But frankly I have more faith in people and I do think that when given the chance and the proper milieu, people respond quite strongly to our work and take it in with great care and reflection. I have seen this again and again at the exhibitions and travelling slideshows I have given.

In Marxist terms, I would say your reasoning is very “unmediated.” That is, you are jumping to conclusions and forgetting all the little steps of cause and effect in between. Eddie Adams’ famous photo didnt stop the Vietnam War anymore than did Nick Ult’s searing image of the children running from napalm or that very early shot taken of the monk immolating himself. All these images had a cumulative effect, but if you lived in the 60s, as I did, you will remember quite vividly that the changes occurring in those years were the effect of many different influences. It is what Freud called Overdetermination (a term that was taken up by latter day Marxist theorists like Althusser, and rightly so. Cause and Effect in society are never a matter of eight ball in the corner pocket type motion.) What we as photographers do is contribute to the mix, but to effect change on the macro level is generally an illusory goal for anyone. As Kenneth pointed out, if you stick to your job, do it well, you will make some great pictures and also make some good in the world. That is all anyone can ask for. I agree with what Jack said: look at the foot of the mountain.

Btw, how could you not be a fan of Salgado’s pix?

Kat you ask me the following: “advocacy’ is a word that’s very interesting when used with photography. but why do you not agree to using it to describe your work?” If you consult the basic definition of the word, yes I suppose that you could argue that what I described above vis a vis the OSI grant is a kind of advocacy. But in actual practice I think advocacy is best left to advocates: Policy makers, NGO workers, grassroots organizers and so on. It is not a good idea for a photographer to get sucked up into anyone’s agenda, for one thing, and the fact is that however active we may be in presenting a certain point of view or argument, that activity is not quite the same as advocacy. Stick to taking good pictures; your work and the good that you do will be all the better for it.

by Jon Anderson | 19 Apr 2006 07:04 (ed. Apr 19 2006) | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
I must admit I concur with Jon on this one. The compassion fatigue that photographers/Journalists/editors and especially punlishers always speak of and on behalf of the public, is largely unfounded. I think the secret is to look at the origin of this supposed compassion fatigue and you find more often then not it is the publisher or the editors towing the line for the publisher who is doing what he is doing because the guy in advertising has told him to go ‘lifestyle’ to accrue the maxium bang for the buck for his masthead. Let’s face it a advertisement for the latest series BMW does not complement pictures of a genocide in Rawanda or vice versa. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see why allot newspapers+magazines around the world do this but should we as, ‘thinking pohotograhers’ moan about this or retain a vision find new ways of going out and documenting what we think is important for the world to know.

I have worked on a project ‘Positive Lives’ on and off for the last ten years ago in different countries it is still happening now and it continues to grow and have impact especially as a education tool in terms of impact but in many other ways as well.

A while back when the exhibition was opened (and there are only a few images in a large scale exhibition that show people in the latter stages of full blown Aids) in Sydney people quitely viewed the images read the stories that went with the images and many broke down and openly wept.

When the exhibition opened in Cape Town the same thing happen with one difference a que of people wanting to view it that snaked 1/2 KM back from the CT Art gallery.

Compassion fatigue or the greed of publishers earning the optium amount of money and feeding the public a fat diet ‘no brainer’ lifestyle features that sleep (co-exist) in the same bed as advertising?


by [former member] | 19 Apr 2006 08:04 | Bangkok, Thailand | | Report spam→
Exactly Jack…….there is NO compassion fatigue, we, at the bottom of the food chain, are simply told that there is…….financial and aesthetic reasons not to sit next to the Prada advert opposite……..but, as I say, and you have said, tell that to the people who queue around the block…..

by Steve Coleman | 19 Apr 2006 10:04 | Bkk, Thailand | | Report spam→
If think all human photographers ask themselves the question you have posed. This is something we all live but need to to carry on and to express our own humanity. I do undoubtedly believe photography like art or film has the same powerful strength to move and sturr emotion, and sometimes swing public opinion and subsequently make for considerable change within government policy…allbeit slow.
That is the beauty of the individual….as an artist, film maker, poet, writer or photographer who chooses issues that need to be addressed….we are one individual against many who try in some way to move people, to spread awareness, and ideally to make change. Sometimes this happens uncontrollably…while for others it may not seem to make any difference at all.
I believe if we focus on important issues, whether they get much coverage in the media or not it can only be good.
Because when one human being thinks about serious issues and ask questions he or she can only have a positive effect on other people he/she meets. In my mind there is no doubt that we can all help in the equation of making for positive change……we just need to believe.
ANDY RAIN – www.andyrainphotos.com

by Andy Rain | 19 Apr 2006 10:04 | Tokyo, Japan | | Report spam→
Think Jon, Jack and Steve have a valid point. Would also like to point out the restrictions of publishing gritty stories in China and other countries where the government controls, directly or indirectly, the media. Sadly its not just advertisers to pander to. Scared magazine owners and editors who tow an often unspoken line for fear of being closed down. Yet ironically these are the places where supposedly controversial images are perhaps most required: I met Stanley Greene in Paris at the book launch of his fantastic Open Wound in 2003, and there he mentioned the ideal of publishing his book in Russia. I wonder, and sadly doubt, if it ever happened.

by Damon Lee Perry | 19 Apr 2006 11:04 (ed. Apr 19 2006) | Beijing, China | | Report spam→
Doubt it, with Trolley….!!! :-)

by Steve Coleman | 19 Apr 2006 11:04 | Drinking with Marcus & Seamus, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Just saw the article on Marcus Bleasdale’s Rape of a Nation on the Amercian Photo Magazine website. The last paragraph relevant here:

Bleasdale says that publishing is not the only way for photojournalists to effect change. He is working with the group Human Rights Watch to organize exhibitions and slide shows in places like Geneva, London, Brussels, New York, and the Congolese cities Shasta and Borneo. “The idea is to raise awareness not only with the public but with policy makers and people who have the power to make a difference: UN officials, ambassadors, heads of banks that are financing companies with mining operations there,” he says. “As a photojournalist, I feel the end game is to make people aware: to be a catalyst for change. There are many outlets that we can follow to make the work effective and to create the change we feel is necessary.”

by Damon Lee Perry | 19 Apr 2006 11:04 | Beijing, China | | Report spam→
Compassion fatigue is perhaps a term favoured by those who would prefer the reading/viewing
public to concentrate on the goodies on page left rather than the reason they bought the
Magazine /Newspaper,to be informed and hopefully act.
I recently took a series of photos in Dili,East Timor at a small charity clinic where one
of the patients was a 2 month old baby girl named Maria born with heart problems that in
,say Australia would be corrected soon after birth
but at that age and only 1900 grams in East Timor she really did’nt have a hope of living
very long without basic surgical intervention

So Marias picture and story were published in The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age newspapers
in Australia,and by 9am on day of publication a pediatric surgeon had volunteered to do the surgery
and readers in Sydney and Melbourne had donated goods,money and time to not only Maria but also
to the Bario Pite Clinic in Dili.
She is currently in the Royal Childrens hospital Randwick putting on enough weight to be operated on next week.
The pic is in my gallery if anyones interested.
My point is that I was not the first to photograph Maria,
but I do have access to a readership,and that made a hell of a lot of difference,to one family anyway.

by Glenn Campbell | 19 Apr 2006 12:04 (ed. Apr 19 2006) | Darwin, Australia | | Report spam→
Just saw the article on Marcus Bleasdale’s Rape of a Nation on the Amercian Photo Magazine website.

Yeah Damon, that project is in fact the very same OSI Documentary Distribution grant I spoke of earlier. Marcus, Nina Berman, myself, Eric Gottesman, and Vera Lentz were all selected for it in the first round; there has been a second round since then, but I dont know who was chosen. The idea is that you must partner up with some group that will help the photographer with the logistics and perhaps even share some of the financial burden. Then you have to come up with an original means of disseminating the work. I think it has been something of a revelation for all of us involved in it, and I hope that OSI will continue this endeavor for some time to come.

by Jon Anderson | 19 Apr 2006 12:04 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Dear Jon and LS members;
I am so sorry for misunderstanding. I just wanted to make an irony and a citation from a movie called “Trainspotting” which about heroin addiction and “disconnected people”. Actually, it is a good example of “ civil disobedience”. Let me add what Renton, heroin addict, says at the end of the movie.
“So why did I do it? I could offer a million answers, all false. The truth is that I’m a bad person, but that’s going to change, I’m going to change. This is the last of this sort of thing. I’m cleaning up and I’m moving on, going straight and choosing life. I’m looking forward to it already. I’m going to be just like you: the job, the family, the fucking big television, the washing machine, the car, the compact disc and electrical tin opener, good health, low cholesterol, dental insurance, mortgage, starter home, leisurewear, luggage, three-piece suite, DIY, game shows, junk food, children, walks in the park, nine to five, good at golf, washing the car, choice of sweaters, family Christmas, indexed pension, tax exemption, clearing the gutters, getting by, looking ahead, to the day you die”.
When I heard these words from this guy, I didn’t feel that he was talking about me. Probably, Renton was criticizing the reckless people!
Who made money from social photography? No one!! Jon, believe me, probably, I wouldn’t write here if I had Porsche and lots of girlfriend in a cruise :) I would say what were these guys talking about. Poverty, social issues, who cares about rest of my life.
As your second attention: I must support what I said. Let me explain why I have focused on Mass Media. This crap mass media was calling Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina survivors as “LOOTERS”. I will give you an example: the picture has taken by Magnum photographer Geert Van Kesteren in South Asia, I think. One of the biggest TV channel called people as LOOTERS under the picture. But, they just needed the food to feed their kids and themselves. It is racism, man. Sorry, but it is true. Majority of people don’t care of what looters mean. Majority of people believed what famous correspondent Christina Amanpour said in first gulf war. They didn’t believe the dead Iraqi children.
I should say “majority of people” instead of people. Majority of people believe this TV channel, not the alternative media or social photographers. Don’t tell me that TV channel can make positive impact on people. Fu,,,, thanks to me. I don’t have a TV in my home. What a great decision.

I strongly agree what you said here: Eddie Adams’ famous photo didn’t stop the Vietnam War anymore than did Nick Ult’s searing image of the children running from napalm or that very early shot taken of the monk immolating himself. All these images had a cumulative effect, but if you lived IN THE 60S, as I did.

That’s what I am talking about. (May be, just because we were in 90s.) I said Ken this.
I don’t think a photograph can end the “Social Issues”. Pictures are seeing by billions of people, in these days. How many people do pay attention? Every day, it is going to be less. People took care of each other in the 60s and then they took care of Vietnam War. They tried to save the world in big innocence and simplicity.
Nowadays, people took care of each other after 9/11 but now it’s gone. Even someone said, “Kill for Jesus”, they used this slogan on their cars. Last month, millions of Latin American marched to protest new immigration laws in USA. This is good. The question is that why these people didn’t march on March 18th to protest invasion of Iraq.

I agree, if there are no hope, ambition, goal, ideal, and love; we go nowhere. We must keep going with telling stories, as you and Ken said nicely above. I guess; I am doing well with the sticking Social Photography.

The article about Marcus is great. But, American Photo says: Marcus Bleasdale’s images of a land in ruin have gotten awards but not the world’s attention. Can any body explain me that why Marcus pictures didn’t get the world’s attention?

Some odd reason, I have no more interest in pictures of Salgado, James Natchwey, Steve Mccurry. I don’t know exactly why. May be Eugene Richards, Nan Goldin, Robert Frank, Jan Saudek, and Koudelka fill up my heart. :)

Loved to hear more idea here, I am going to print this thread out. And read again and again. What is the solution? Just make people aware; they will understand what good is.

by [former member] | 19 Apr 2006 22:04 | Toronto, Canada | | Report spam→
Glenn, thanks for sharing your story, that’s a fantastic example of real impact. Jon, cheers for the info on OSI; best of luck for round 2. Ali, appreciate your passion; there are plenty of tangents we can go off on, re. politics etc, perhaps better discussed on other blogs, though here its great to get a variety of views and stories from everyone.

by Damon Lee Perry | 19 Apr 2006 23:04 | Beijing, China | | Report spam→
Ali, take a deep breath, relax and then stop all the hyperbole. Take Jack’s advice, spend more time looking at the foot of the mountain, because you are so fixed on the top that you are going to develop cerebral hemorrhaging. Here is what the article actually says:

“_no magazines wanted to hear about it. It wasn’t sexy; it wasn’t something you could sell.” Bleasdale, however, persisted in taking pictures. Eventually his images of the region began appearing in Germany’s Geo; Britain’s Telegraph Magazine and Sunday Times Magazine; and other publications in Portugal, Italy, and Scandinavia. Although no U.S. media have printed the work, it can be seen at an exhibition at New York City’s Open Society Institute from December 1 to May of 2006."

At first the magazines wouldnt publish the material but then they did in fact get published and while the US magazines havent gotten around to it Germany, UK, Portugal, Italy and Scandinavia is no mean accomplishment. That is a good chunk of the world’s attention. The article then goes on to point out that through the OSI intiative, which we have been discussing here, Marcus is "_working with the group Human Rights Watch to organize exhibitions and slide shows in places like Geneva, London, Brussels, New York, and the Congolese cities Shasta and Borneo.
" Again that is a nice chunk of the world right there too.

Ali, what more do you want? You ask why didnt Marcus’s pix get the world’s attention, but they are getting it, despite the fact that the media is obtuse. And they will get more attention, becuase Marcus is humping his ass getting the damn things out there. You cant in fairness ask for more; even at the height of photojournalism you couldnt ask for so much. The World is a big place; no one commands its full attention! Our job is simply to fight for more space on the pages that feature clothing tips from the next teenage idol. It has been like that for a long time, and while you may believe it is a sure sign of the decline of civilization, let me remind you that historically speaking Grub street was no better and America’s own wonderful tradition of Yellow Journalism ruled the press for most of its existence there. This is not to say that you shouldnt speak out against bad journalism when you find it, but dont exaggerate the situation. The world has been spinning askew ever since the gods loosed that top from its string, so learn to wobble a bit.

Consider what I said about thinking in a more mediated fashion, seriously. These large generalizations are meaningless and they will drive you crazy. I am not kidding about that. That way lies madness.

by Jon Anderson | 19 Apr 2006 23:04 (ed. Apr 19 2006) | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
I am about to lose my worried and functionless mind. Something just makes me angry sometimes. Anyways, no worries, I have started my long-term project two months ago here in Toronto. I have got what to do. I want to spend a year on it. And then we shall see. :)
Of Course, Marcus got but why American Photo used that title….
I owe you “fair trade” java and turkish coffee( just black) And also, I owe Boby raki(traditional alcohol), when he got back :)
btw, I have a good a idea for OSI,too. I am sure they will support. We will see, in two-three years.

by [former member] | 19 Apr 2006 23:04 (ed. Apr 19 2006) | Toronto, Canada | | Report spam→
Ha! well I am a big fan of both Raki and good coffee, but I warn you it will be hard to compete with the stuff I drink down here. Though we dont get a fair shake on the global market, our coffee is just as good as that 24 dollar a pound Blue Mountain swindle! I used to drink alot of Turkish coffee with my friend Mohamed al-Badrawy in England, when we were studying there. He taught me how to cook it up just right in the turkish pot. Hmmm boy.

Ali, thing to do is channel your energies and dont worry so much about the world you cant touch and feel. If it werent for my various projects i would go nuts, and even those arent enough to control the energy, because the excess gets siphoned off here at LS. As Voltaire once wrote, “il faut cultiver notre jardin.”

by Jon Anderson | 19 Apr 2006 23:04 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Are we talking about the same images that Marcus Bleasdale just won the Olivier Rebbot Award from the Oversea Press Club? Is that old news? The publication was listed as American Photo Magazine. I’m on a slow connection or I’d check it out.

by Kenneth Jarecke | 20 Apr 2006 01:04 | Montana, United States | | Report spam→
Yes Kenneth those are the very pictures.

by Jon Anderson | 20 Apr 2006 07:04 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Damon asked me to re-post this. . .

“Photojournalists Seek New Audiences To Affect Change
No longer counting on magazines to help them move the masses, photographers target small but active audiences”.

By David Walker (PDN)

April 02, 2006
In eastern Congo, warlords have seized control of the country’s gold mines, exploited the labor of the local population, and perpetuated war and violence by using profits from the sale of gold to buy more weapons.

British photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale has been documenting this story, but after six years of covering conflict in Congo, he’s learned to expect scant interest or support from U.S. and European magazines. Still, he was determined to find ways to make a difference with his pictures.

So Bleasdale teamed up with Human Rights Watch, which used his images in a recent report called “The Curse of Gold,” and also exhibited the work in a Geneva bank lobby frequented by some of the European financiers of the African gold industry.

“It was a good spring board to educate not the general public—they can’t do much about it—but to go directly to industrialists and financiers to show them the effects of their actions on the general population,” says Bleasdale.

Bleasdale “named and shamed people,” observes fellow photojournalist Paul Lowe. (The story is titled “Rape of a Nation” at .)

Bleasdale explains that his goal wasn’t to shut down Congo’s gold mining industry, but to wrest control of it from the warlords so that the resource can benefit the general population instead. At least one mining company has withdrawn from Congo while it works with Human Rights Watch to find a “more morally conscious way” of doing business there, he says.

Bleasdale is among a growing number of photojournalists looking beyond traditional outlets for their work. They are driven by necessity, of course, since support for documentary photography is dwindling among magazines and newspapers. But they are also driven by their activism to search for target audiences who are directly affected by the issues documented and who have the power to change things for the better.

“Photographers are asking, ’where’s the audience? Where can we push this stuff,’” says Tim Hetherington, who has covered West Africa, particularly wartorn Liberia, for the last six years. “I’m not negating the press, but it’s not enough to say I’m happy having work appearing on the printed page.”

Hetherington feels an obligation to engage the communities he photographs. One way he reaches those communities is by mounting his images in fly-poster exhibitions in public spaces. “Fly-posters are easy to transport, easy to put up and space is not an issue,” he explains. The idea is to help his subject communities recognize their own problems and to open dialogues about solutions.

Recently, he documented the historic Krio (Creole) houses of Freetown, many of which had been destroyed during a rebel attack on the city in 1999. One goal of the project was to help rebuild a photographic archive of Freetown’s history, which had also been destroyed in the attack. While he was photographing the houses, some residents took him to task for focusing (yet again) on Africa’s poverty.

But after he mounted an exhibition in Sierra Leone’s National Museum, he says, “People were amazed by how beautiful the houses were, and started talking about the need to preserve them.” Activists have since petitioned the government and UNESCO to provide funding for historic preservation, Hetherington says.

Paul Lowe, meanwhile, has spent the decade documenting the reconstruction of Bosnia, a story long forgotten by the media. Saqi Books recently published his book, Bosnians, and Lowe decided to mount an exhibition of the work in Sarajevo.

“The magazine industry is really jaded,” he says. “When you show pictures to a photo editor, they’ll say, ‘Oh, these are really strong, but the editor won’t like it.’ When you show that quality of work to people who are not in the industry, they’re often really blown away by it. They’re astonished by the quality of the work and the level of comprehension and understanding that photojournalism can produce.”

But to reach and move non-traditional audiences to action, photographers have to think more carefully about their goals, agendas and intentions, Lowe says. “If you don’t really know who your audience is, then what’s the point?” he explains. “My [instructions] to my students is to think of your audience first—whose opinion are you trying to change?—and therefore make your work much more tightly focused to that specific community.”

One of his students, Morag Livingstone, has taken the advice to heart with her multimedia project on poverty in Scotland. Her goal, she says, is put pressure on the Scottish authorities to do more to alleviate poverty, especially childhood poverty. “We as photojournalists need to move on [and] use our art to promote causes, rather than just report the news.”

Livingstone focused her project on the inability of the underclass to access amenities most Britons take for granted such as a warm winter coat, basic levels of nutrition, a bank account and Internet connection, to name a few. The regional government, called the Scottish Executive, has already concluded that the lack of inclusion helps perpetuate a cycle of poverty. But so far, the SE has lacked the will to allocate enough money to address the problem, Livingstone says.

The images on her 18-minute DVD show shabby living conditions, kids cooped-up indoors because playgrounds are covered with broken glass and stressed parents making choices between food and medicine or clothing. Scrolling text provides facts and figures about poverty and its effects, particularly on children. The voices of her subjects personalize the issues and music amplifies a sense of both desperation and hope.

“When I showed it to the mothers, they said, ‘You can read about this [poverty] all you like, but until you see it, it doesn’t become real,’” says Livingstone. (A version of the project is online at .)

Two small charities that originally helped her find subjects are now introducing her to larger charities with more political clout. Through them, Livingstone hopes to reach Scottish Executive rainmakers with her project. The charities are also trying to arrange a screening of the project at a global poverty conference the SE is hosting in Scotland in June. At the same time, Livingstone is trying to convince a large network of charity organizations to buy copies of her DVD for use as an educational tool so she can get some money to continue her work.

Photographers here in the U.S., meanwhile, are exploring similar issues of advocacy and audience. New York photographer Nina Berman, for instance, discovered by accident the surprising power of her Purple Hearts project when she started presenting it directly to high school students.

The project, about the lives of soldiers maimed in Iraq, began as a self-assignment. “I felt like I wasn’t seeing a full picture of the war in the mainstream press,” she says. The only U.S. magazine willing to publish any of the images was Mother Jones. Afterwards, a (then) obscure veteran’s group named the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) saw the spread and got Berman’s permission to use one of the images on its Web site. WWP ended up raising $50,000 in donations as a result, Berman says.

Meanwhile, her Purple Hearts Web site was generating inquiries from active duty soldiers, veterans’ groups, political groups, educators and others. “I started thinking maybe there was another audience for this project, way beyond magazines,” she says. An invitation to show her work at a New York City high school confirmed that. As she was showing the pictures, Berman says, she felt it dawning on the students that war was something other than what they were hearing from recruiters and seeing in military commercials.

“The reaction was so strong. It was something I had never experienced as a photographer, where you see an immediate reaction to your work,” Berman says. “It was a mind-blowing feeling that pictures could do this in such a short period of time.”

The experience has changed the way Berman is thinking about new projects. “In the past, I wasn’t really concerned so much with the audience. I took my pictures as sort of a personal conversation with myself, as a way to kind of understand the world. But once you experience a reaction like I’ve experienced to these pictures, you don’t want to go back to the old way.”

Finding retail audiences for a project isn’t always easy, though. Berman is currently working on a project about mega churches cropping up in American suburbs. Those churches have become a powerful political force and have changed the concept of church-going in America, Berman says. But she adds, “I’m not sure how I can turn this project into something beyond a magazine story.”

Another challenge, related to finding audiences, is finding the funding to support such projects. Non-professional audiences often don’t recognize the value of documentary photojournalism. And they’re frequently too narrow or lacking in resources to provide much support anyway. That forces photographers to self-fund their projects, and then scrounge around afterwards for support from foundations and other charitable sources.

Berman won a $5,000 grant from the Documentary Photography Project at the Open Society Institute (OSI) to present her work at high schools and other venues around the country. The grant covered her travel expenses and exhibition costs, but didn’t compensate her at all for the time and expense she spent on producing the project in the first place, she says.

OSI has provided limited support for the non-traditional distribution of a number of other documentary projects, including Bleasdale’s gold project. (See our feature this month on PDNOnline, “OSI Grants: Bringing Photo-j Into Communities.”)

Beyond OSI, though, sources of funding for advocacy projects are scarce. NGOs would seem like an obvious source of support, but most still don’t use photography effectively.

One exception is Human Rights Watch which, in addition to working with Bleasdale on the issue of gold mining in Congo, has worked with Susan Meiselas in an effort to improve conditions for the Kurdish people, says Veronica Matushaj, HRW’s director of photography.

“A lot of humanitarian groups use photography for fundraising, but we’re using it for advocacy,” says Matushaj. “We want the power of photography to help push our message out there, and change the destiny of people.”

The challenge for photographers, then, is not only to find other organizations whose missions dovetail with their documentary projects, but to convince them that photography can move hearts, minds, and possibly even mountains. If only it can be presented to the right audiences.

To read our feature, “Photojournalism and Advocacy: Can They Mix?” visit PDNOnline, this month, where we will also post a feature on the OSI Grant.

by Davin Ellicson | 20 Apr 2006 07:04 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Kenneth, I like the work from Torino. I’m a passionate nordic skier myself. . . Also, I think it’s cool that you are able to do what you do from Montana and don’t feel obligated to be in New York or Paris or some other capital. . . Best, Davin.

by Davin Ellicson | 20 Apr 2006 08:04 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Davin, thanks a lot for re-posting this – its so bang on topic and a really fascinating read. Cheers, Damon

by Damon Lee Perry | 20 Apr 2006 08:04 | Beijing, China | | Report spam→
Here’s a link to a short piece about a BBC documentary on King Leopold and the
Congo – a bit of historical background to Marcus’s work – the film’s
called Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death


by Colin Pantall | 20 Apr 2006 08:04 | Bath, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Davin, thanks a lot for re-posting this – its so bang on topic and a really fascinating read. Cheers, Damon

by Damon Lee Perry | 20 Apr 2006 08:04 | Beijing, China | | Report spam→
When we talk about effecting change, whether through some direct and verifiable alteration in the political or economic landscape or simply by altering people’s opinions and feelings, it is good to keep focussed on the local concrete details of the scenario. Jack’s comment about looking at the foot of the mountain got me thinking about this, particularly after I reread the American Photography piece about Marcus’s work. If you stop and think a moment about what he is up against, or what any of us are up against, you will realize that most talk about change, if it is carried on in general terms, is too easy and cheap. Even what Nina Berman says above in the article quoted here, as wonderful a revelation as that might be, still has to be analysed within the context of the specific conditions surrounding her themes. She is trying to show the American public the cost of a war that they really dont understand, and a travelling show of these images is undoubtedly a powerful means of changing public opinion. That would seem to provide a positive example of a reasonable scenario for effecting change. But consider instead what Marcus is up against, a collusion of geopolitical forces that have been entrenched in the Congo ever since its creation as a Belgian colony. How do we talk of effecting change with such a scenario? I will let Marcus comment on that himself if he finds this thread and the time to comment.

meanwhile on a smaller scale I can certainly recount the situation I am facing: here on this little island over 800,000 Haitian migrant laborers are slaving away on the cane fields, farm fields and construction sites of the Dominican Republic (their numbers grew to the present proportions due to the recent collapse of the Aristide govt etc). The plantation system, though originally created by the Spanish Empire, is in fact in its contemporary incarnation a creation of the North American sugar companies. Haitian labor was not the first to be exploited: back in colonial times it was the Tainos and then the Congolese. Later on Haitians, Jamaicans, Gallegos from Spain, and others were corralled into working on the plantations, but the Haitians outnumbered everyone else, as they do to this day. The conditions under which these people live and work are horrific; really, the plantation system is nothing more than a Caribbean Apartheid and only one step up from slavery.

OK, let’s look at the factors that come into play here. First of all there is the insatiable demand for sugar, one of the most basic and common commodities on earth. Despite the demand, the price for sugar is very low. Thus, sugar manufacturers cannot afford to (1) upgrade their physical plant and improve working conditions, or (2) afford to pay their workers a living wage. Second, there is the global commodities market, a very unstable thing, and sugar has taken a beating on it. Third, there is competition from American beet sugar farmers, though the US still maintains a high sugar quota here for Dominican sugar. Fourth, there are the various international corporate concerns: the sugar manufacturers, the sugar traders, the sugar buyers. Layer upon layer of concerned economic interests. Fifth, there is the local sociopolitical scene: two rather shaky governments, Haiti and DR, both of which have been at each other’s throats in the past, and are now just barely cooperating. The latter govt has watched its territory be flooded with “refugees” from Haiti, and the international community does very little to help even though DR simply does not have the resources to cope with the problem. Sixth, there is ethnic enmity between the two people as a result of the flood of “refugees” and the resulting frightened reaction on the part of Dominicans, who in turn have been whipped into a fury by their demogogic politicians. Seventh, there is nothing else for the unfortunate Haitians to do, since they are basically without options. So they make excellent fodder for the growing Dominican economy, and “rescuing” them from field work is not necessarily doing them any good. Eighth, there is a lot of money being made now by members of the Dominican armed forces in human trafficking. Ninth, the situation of the plantations is pretty much never going to change much, certainly not in its essence, because global economics dictate its structure. It is not a system that is controlled by any one group and certainly not by the Dominican authorities. It is amorphous and uncentralized. Tenth and final, this economy is something out of colonial times; it is not a significant element of the New World Order; it is wholly out of step with the customs and vision of developed nations. It is a relic, a curiosity, something almost medieval. And because of that, no one pays attention and no magazines deem it worthy of page space. These unfortunate people exist in the garbage bin of History.

That is not all but that will do for the purposes of illustration. Now what the hell is a concerned photographer supposed to do when confronted with all that? What are the reasonable expectations we can entertain for change when faced with such a scenario? Well, there are means of effecting some little change: the media’s criticism of the Dominican govt has forced it to make new laws and the pressure is on to force the govt to give these workers legal and political rights. Advertising the problem has also led to more intervention from outside aid organizations, who at the very least can attend to the health and well being of these people. One can also point to advances made in terms of battling ethnic prejudice and getting people to realize that Haitians are not voodoo-besotted African devils but our Caribbean brothers who share much the same culture and aspirations. This is certainly where I come in. But while these are significant changes, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the system as a whole is not something a mere photographer, or even a photographer and a bunch of well-armed NGOs are likely to change in any fundamental way.

Briefly then, with all this talk of “advocacy” and change, it behooves all of us to remember just what it is we are up against everytime we face the goliath of injustice or oppression. But dont talk to me of changing the world. The problems in my little corner are themselves so overwhelming that just to get out there and document them is a herculean task and more than enough for anyone who decides to make a difference in this world.

by Jon Anderson | 20 Apr 2006 17:04 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→

I hope you keep copies of your posts in a Word document! You always have such reasoned, scrupulous comments! Best regards, Davin

by Davin Ellicson | 20 Apr 2006 17:04 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
…… the grind of everyday changes take place, with or without us. That is a positive

by Imants | 21 Apr 2006 04:04 (ed. Apr 21 2006) | 7 Hills, Australia | | Report spam→

Gracias por siempre ser tan puntualmente analitico.
A thought that just crossed my mind as I finished reading the last part of this thread:
When it comes to figuring out ways to help, we are always addressing the issue from our own
standpoint – as photographers – and/or the possible help we may find “outside”, i.e. organizations, foundations etc.
How can we, through photography, consider educational campaigns? I mean, sugar cane workers, street children or
mine workers might feel exhausted and taken advantage of, but do you think they know what their rights are, or how differently other
people live? Are they aware of the extent of the hardship they are going through? How could we help them help themselves too?
It seems to me that there is a lot of work to be done at an educational level, both outside and inside.
I understand that self-esteem and self-confidence might be very low in people who undergo extreme poverty, but oftentimes – if not most of the time,
we have all seen the powerful presence of dignity in the eyes of underprivileged people.
And that is why this thought of informing not only the outside world but also to thoroughly inform the insiders, the actors of any given
dramatic conflict haunts me. That reminds me of a text written by a Colombian volunter doctor who went to Afghanistan for a few
months and said that whatever she did, however hard she tried, she realized she would not be able to change the course
of things, but she also realized that her little daily contribution to alleviate her patients pain was equally important.
So to paraphrase you, depending on the context we will think about different ways of informing, and educating.

by [former member] | 21 Apr 2006 06:04 | Tokyo, Japan | | Report spam→
Don’t know why this didn’t come to mind earlier..http://www.witness.org/
Spotlighted on PBS NOW tonite…

by [former member] | 21 Apr 2006 20:04 | Brooklyn, NY, United States | | Report spam→

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