In honor of International Women’s Day, here’s Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie giving a TED talk in 2009 about the danger of a single story. She says: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, CRS wanted to show how they use various tools in their relief and recovery operations. They came up with an interactive photo and text feature where the user scrolls over an image, learns what the tool is, then clicks on the picture of each tool to see more photographs and captions of each tool in use. It’s easy to tell what’s in each picture (except perhaps the megaphone) and it’s fairly easy to navigate through the different levels of pictures and text. I only wish it were easier to find “Simple Tools, Big Benefit” on the CRS website.
Hat tip to my friend Jim Stipe, photo editor at Catholic Relief Services, who told me about this feature a few weeks ago.
Sketch of Jesus laughing. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
I recently saw a framed sketch of Jesus Christ laughing.
Jesus’s head is thrown back slightly, his mouth half-open and his eyes half-closed. There are little wrinkles by his eyes and his right hand is lightly touching his chest. Whatever Jesus is laughing about, well, it must be pretty funny.
I couldn’t stop looking at laughing Jesus.
That’s because in all my 30-something years of life, I’ve never seen a work of art depicting Jesus enjoying himself, much less laughing. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Bible story about Jesus having a sense of humor. All the visual and written stories about Jesus depict him as a fairly serious guy. His usual speeches start something like “follow me” or “be not afraid,” not “…and then this rabbi walks into a bar.” But the Bible says Jesus was as much human as he was God, which means he must have laughed sometimes.
I wonder what inspired this artist to think outside the box and tell a different visual story about Jesus.
Seeing that sketch got me to thinking: How can I emulate – how can we emulate – that artist and create fresh stories about international development? I often think about this, but seeing laughing Jesus has made me ruminate on this subject even more. What stories are we missing because we’re used to looking at an issue in a certain light? How can we think outside the box? Feel free to share your ideas or examples of “outside-the-box” stories. And stay tuned for more in a future blog post.
Editing is hard work, so we’re taking cues on the topic from the NGO world and beyond.
The movie “Gandhi” opens with a breathtaking funeral scene that was the culmination of six weeks of preparation and 11 crews shooting over 20,000 feet of film. That’s almost enough film to reach the top of Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in North America.
Final edit: 125 seconds
Watch the scene with commentary from Gandhi director Richard Attenborough and others involved in the production:
(A version of this post first appeared on the blog at Bread for the World, my employer.)
These women are part of a sewing/tailoring workshop at a family center run by MRDS.org in Sulaymaniyah, northern Iraq. (Copyrighted photo courtesy of Heber Vega)
If people remember a photograph, they are more likely to remember the issue or event that goes along with it. As a photographer, I try to take memorable and striking photos. But when it comes to photographing hunger and poverty-related issues – which are my main “beats” at my job – there’s the added responsibility of maintaining the dignity of the people being photographed. It’s what I aim for in my photography, and it’s what these photographers do well on their blogs.
Here are my top five humanitarian photo blogs, in no particular order:
Esther Havens is an American photographer whose work I first stumbled upon on the Charity:Water blog. Her vibrant pictures capture people’s strength, dignity, and unique personalities. Some of her pictures are even funny — which is rare in humanitarian photography — as you can see in this blog post about Rwandan boys participating in an education and food program. Don’t miss her post about the reality of working as a humanitarian photographer.
Glenna Gordon, an American photojournalist, shuttles between West Africa and New York, but used to live in Liberia, where she photographed for newspapers and NGOs. If you’re looking for news and music from Africa, plus fresh photographs and introspective commentary about life in Africa, then you’ll enjoy Glenna’s blog, Scarlett Lion. Her photo story on Harper, Liberia, a decaying coastal town, is a must-see.
Heber Vega is a humanitarian aid worker-turned-photographer who has been based in Iraq since 2003. His blog is a mix of his own photography — like this post on photographing women in a Muslim Country; interviews with other photographers; and advice on photographic techniques. One thing that impresses me about Heber, who’s from Chile, has nothing to do with his pictures: he founded The ONE-SHOT Project, a nonprofit that teaches photography and multimedia skills to Iraqi children.
Photo Philanthropy is well-known in photography circles for promoting photography for social change. Every year since 2009, the organization has granted awards for the best humanitarian photo stories from professional and amateur photographers (full disclosure: I entered the contest in its first year and didn’t win). The blog features pictures, interviews with Photo Philanthropy award winners and grantees, and opportunities for photographers to work with nonprofits.
What humanitarian photo blogs do you follow? Let us know in the comments section (at the top of the post, next to the date).
If you tell a good story then people will pay attention.
At least, that’s been my experience filming, photographing and writing about international development issues for NGOs and nonprofits. But when it comes to reporting on international development issues, there’s a tendency to fall into cliché storytelling: Person A had a problem, NGO B showed up and enrolled Person A in their program, then Person A’s life improved dramatically. We’ve all told this story before. I know I have. The cliché story or photograph isn’t a terrible one; it just doesn’t do justice to people’s complex lives.
I started this blog because I want to explore different and nuanced ways of telling good stories about international development and humanitarian issues. In my job as the multimedia manager at Bread for the World I’m constantly thinking of how to maintain the dignity of the people who have entrusted us with their stories while also meeting the organization’s communications goals. I hope this blog will be a place to share ideas. I also hope it will be a place to help people interested in NGO work understand the challenges we face using words, video, photos and audio to tell stories.
All opinions expressed on this blog are mine alone and not those of my employer.