I still remember one of the first greatest lessons I received from a photographer, in fact that lesson was so great, it was etched in my mind, and it became a kind of mantra to me (even though I didn’t understood it quite completely). It is no secret that I live in a fairly turbulent country in terms of social security thanks to its uncontrolled violence. The fact undermines the peace of many sectors of the population (if not all of them). Photography, within its generosity, is not exclusive to social sectors, and one of the great fears of many people who have invested a considerable amount of money in their equipment is to be victim of an assault or robbery. That was one of the concerns that a student expressed to this already-seasoned photographer, and his response was “the camera gives you power”. He replied to his rhetorical quote that he felt even safer accompanied by a camera than without it.
It has taken me some time to really understand the diluted wisdom of those words from a person who does not practice photography as a profession and who has suffered several robberies and assaults too. The primordial thing here is that photography is an instrument that helps us to complain or to even make awareness via our own vision of reality.
Social Change and Awareness
Quite often, photography has advocated for the social interests of some people who want to see changes, or who want to reveal certain tints and hues of reality that many times the big powers (corporations and government alike) don’t want us to see. Let’s refresh our minds a little bit about how photography and television helped the Americans to change their perception on the Vietnam War.
Formal photojournalism has always been an authority in the diffusion of the most crude and raw faces of truth, but we as photographers can use the medium as an instrument of complaint, not only of the negative stuff, but also of the positive too. There are many stories that really deserve to be told and are not sad or negative.
It is understood that photography can help a lot to create social changes, or at least to help them run in a slightly faster way. Just by being able to take a picture, and immortalise a moment that reflects a position on a subject or a concern (and its consequent publication in the medium that seems most appropriate) is perhaps one of the most effective ways to achieve this state.
You don’t need to go far far away
In order to create photographs that respond to the social dynamics we are looking for, thus social change, it is not necessary to go very far. In fact, we’re more likely to give an objective approach or opinion on a topic that matters to us if we are part of the situation being hit. Ironically, it’s easier to identify these situations if we are not used to them, but it is part of the responsibility of every photographer to maintain a high degree of sensitivity (I am not talking about emotions, if not being able to perceive) by reality.
It is not necessary to be a photographer
Reckless statement from me? Perhaps. But what I do know is that photography can help communities in complex psychosocial situations to cope with them in a less complicated way. There are too many examples, and it is good to be like this because even though this is true, the changes are seen gradually. Recently I found this example that I found wonderful.
In these type of dynamics, a community is empowered to express itself through a photographic medium. I do not know exactly how long these type of dynamics have been going on, but I do know that it has generated good results, not only for the spectators, but the photographers too. These people get to express themselves, and viewers are able to enter through an intimate window in the life those communities that live a singular reality.
Through these exercises, the subject themselves are the ones documenting their daily situations, instead of some outsider photographer. Some photographers actually manage to connect with communities, but the scarcity of resources (time and so on) makes the connection very limited indeed.
Not everything has to be photojournalism or documentary photography
When we speak of awareness or complaint, we often tend to think of photojournalism, especially for those of us who are so immersed in the discipline of photography and are passionate about certain types of images. But it’s not all photojournalism, and advertising campaigns for social awareness can be pretty bold and powerful, even uncomfortable to watch.
Advertising has the power to surprise a lot when it is ingeniously done, and the best for me is that which is done for a Social Awareness purpose, either by a specific initiative from an NGO or part of the Corporate Social actions from a company. The origin does not matter, but the message does. Here is an excellent compendium of 25 images that respond to Powerful Social Awareness Campaigns.
Hey, there’s more
Doing some research for this article, I stumbled into this magnificent place driven by UNICEF, in which they advocate for children and women through visual evidence and storytelling to support their rights. UNICEF’s spirit has been always to give a fair chance in life to every child, everywhere, especially the most disadvantaged ones.
Whether it’s part of a million-dollar advertisement effort to create a certain level of awareness, or simply as a result of a small empowerment effort of giving cameras to a vulnerable community, the important thing is that the camera has power, and that power must be used always in order to create a better world.