Words from a Visual Messenger

Lewis Hines said “If I could explain this with words, then I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.” Worldwide photographers are documenting stories that beg to be shared.  An image doesn’t need a translator, which is one reason why it can be immediately powerful. If one photographer can proclaim such a powerful story through making a photograph, then what impact could be made if that same photographer handed his camera to the subject of his story? How would those photos change, and how would the story be told from the inside out, rather than the outside looking in?  I challenge myself with these questions when I go about my documentary work.

As a photographer, I make photographs. I share what I see, and I attempt to tell visually the part of the story that I know, which is usually the tip of the ice burg. Trust and access to certain stories is not easy to come by, so I do not discount this relationship building which is essential to photographing a story.  But I do realize that when my story revolves around people or a community that I depend on that community to let me in.  In these cases, I am a fortunate outsider.

I am a visual messenger. When I look through the lens, I have many goals. First and foremost, I want to portray a visual experience or a story for an audience. I want to make a stunning or interesting image. I want to make my photograph technically correct, with good composition. I want to put a four dimensional experience into a two dimensional small square, which can eventually be shown in print or on the screen.  But sometimes I find stories that bear so much emotional weight, stories that I feel I cannot completely tell with images, that I have to question my methods as a photographer. My goal is to incorporate additional tools and ways of engagement that allow me to tell and show more authentic stories, representing the voice of my subjects whenever possible.  At times only words or images alone do not tell a story properly …. it is for stories such as these, that I will aim to engage further, to complete the visual. And it is in the case of the above photographs that I made last August 1, 2010, where I felt my photos alone do not tell the story of why this little girl is digging at the dump.

And it is that day, when I decided to work more closely with the street children to understand their stories. The stories these children produced, in their own photos, illustrations, and words, is in the fund raising traveling exhibition called “art & advocacy :: street children have a voice”.  The next show will be at Projekte Gallery in Wilmington, NC from May 14 – June 8th, with the opening May 20th at 7pm.  Money raised will go to Child Restoration Outreach in Lira, Uganda.

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