Photography, A Means To A Cause?

You may have noticed I haven’t posted an new entry for a while.  Part of this is due to work pressure but a larger part is because I haven’t been out capturing pictures lately and this is primarily a photography blog.  Reflecting on this I recognize this is about much more than photography.

Photography has opened up my eyes to the big issues that face us every day.  These issues center around inequality and my first experience of this was in Ethiopia where the local people have very little.  They taught me you can be very satisfied with life without all the trappings of our western world.  Namibia reinforced this view and as I turned my attention to homelessness in my own city, I saw the same very unequal distribution of wealth and with it much more suffering.  As I think more about this and wonder why there is more suffering here than I saw in local villages in Africa, I think the answer lies in our societies.  In Africa, everyone is in it together with the exception of the tiny minority of the elites.  In my city, like any other in the USA, I do wonder whether society really cares, we truly are not all in this together.

This was brought home to me at P:ear, the creative center for  homeless youth in Portland.  During my first volunteer session, I was talking to a youth as we wandered around the art display which is available for purchase.  He noticed the price of $300 for one painting and I can best describe his emotion as one of disgust and puzzlement.  He asked why would anyone pay $300 for this picture when that money could do so much more good by providing for people living on the streets.  I didn’t have a good answer and in his shoes I am sure I would have asked the same question.  What is wrong with this picture??

Anyhow, to round out this post and perhaps become a catalyst for more around this, I recognize I am becoming more absorbed by the social issues my photography has helped me explore than the photography itself.  I encountered another question last year at a conference, “Is it enough as a photographer to only share your pictures and create awareness?”.  My voice says no, being an observer is only the starting point.

8 thoughts

  1. Thought provoking post. Although I live in South Africa, it stuck out more in Mozambique how little most of the population have and yet the Mozambicans I met were happy and always ready to share the little they had. Instead of recording hardship, I photographed smiles and a warmth that is hard to beat.

      • I did, especially in the villages around Tofo. It’s felt like one huge, extended family. It seemed to spread among the animals too as I saw and photographed a guineafowl who had grown up with chickens and thought it was one of them 🙂 There is a post somewhere on the blog dated September last year called “We’re Family Aren’t We?”.

        I was even more amazed though to see how people looked after others’ stalls at Tofu market. Damien who doubles as a tour guide left his liquor stall open and unattended while we went to Inhambane for the day. We returned to find money on the counter.”Oh somebody must have sold some beers” he told. Where else in the world does that happen?

      • That’s a wonderful example and I felt the same would be true in Ethiopia out in the rural areas. It seems we have strayed so far from this ideal, I wonder what it would take to reverse the trend?

      • I wish I had the answer Andy although I expect it has a lot to go with greed, no longer having a sense of family and community. The Mozambicans I met were resilient and resourceful but above all content. It made me think of the Buddhist teachings about attachment leading to suffering.

        I was equally amazed at how Mozambicans – and particularly minibus taxi drivers – actually abided by the speed limits which was a complete culture shock coming from South Africa where a minibus taxi driver is like a kamikaze pilot. In Mozambique spares are scarce and expensive and even more so in the outlying areas so they really look after their cars.

  2. Funny how that happens, huh? Not only does the Observer we are shape what we observe, but what we observe also shapes the Observer we are… look forward to hearing more!

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