Photo by @boltamania

We believe in the power of photography to inspire action for social change. Together with the mobile photography platform EyeEm and renowned photo-journalist Ed Kashi we are looking for photos that address important social issues; the winning shot will be selected and presented at the PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Awards on March 8 in San Francisco.

Your mission:

Show us what’s happening right before your eyes! Capture a social issue you care about and submit your mobile photos to Your Photo for Social Change by PhotoPhilanthropy on EyeEm.

Your reward:

Our distinguished Activist Awards jury, composed of renowned photographers and leaders in the field of human rights advocacy and photography, will choose the winning photo and announce the winner at the live-streamed PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Awards ceremony on March 8, 2014. In addition, the winner will get the chance to receive a personal photo essay critique by award-winning photographer Ed-Kashi.

The winner and 20 runner-ups will also get featured on the blogs of PhotoPhilanthropy and EyeEm.

Photojournalist Ed Kashi. Photo courtesy of Ed Kashi, via GlobalPost

About the PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Awards

The annual PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Awards honor outstanding work done by photographers in collaboration with nonprofit organizations worldwide. This year, PhotoPhilanthropy is offering for the first time a mobile photography award, in addition to its traditional professional, amateur, and student awards.

Activist Awards Master of Ceremonies

  • Ed Kashi, photojournalist and storyteller, member of VII Photo.

Activist Awards Jury

  • James Wellford, photo editor and curator, former Senior International Photo Editor at Newsweek Magazine
  • Carroll Bogert, Deputy Executive Director for External Relations, Human Rights Watch
  • Amy Yenkin, Director, Documentary Photography Project at Open Society Foundations
  • Oren Ziv, documentary and news photographer, co-founder of ActiveStills

How to take part:

Download the app at Then all you need to do is take a photo and tag it with Your Photo for Social Change by PhotoPhilanthropy. Your photo will  be automatically added to the mission’s album.

If you want to add a photo you’ve already uploaded, you can do so via the “Edit Photo” menu. Just go to your profile, view the photo and select “Edit Photo”. From there you can add the tag Your Photo for Social Change by PhotoPhilanthropy. Deadline: February 23, 2014.

About EyeEm:

EyeEm is a photo sharing & discovery app for the photographer inside all of us. Founded in Berlin 2011 by a group of photo-enthusiasts, the free EyeEm application is available in the App Store and on Google Play in 20 languages. Visit to find out more.


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On March 8, 2014 we will be holding the 5th Annual PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Awards in San Francisco. The Activist Awards identify outstanding work done by photographers in collaboration with nonprofit organizations worldwide, with prizes ranging from $2,000-$15,000.

If you live in the Bay Area and would like to join us for this special live-judging event and panel discussion please RSVP here. Admission to this event is free.

Those of you who cannot join us live will be able to watch a live-stream of the event.

We have an amazing panel of judges for this year’s awards, including Carroll Bogert, Richard Koci Hernandez, James Wellford, Amy Yenkin, and Oren Ziv, with master of ceremonies Ed Kashi.

As part of this year’s celebration we will be hosting two photography workshops on March 7, the day before the Activist Awards at the Kelly Cullen Community in San Francisco.

Workshop #1: Mobile Photography & Storytelling
with Richard Koci Hernandez (@koci), Ed Kashi (@edkashi), and Instagram’s Tyson Wheatley (@twheat) moderated by André Hermann (@shutter_se7en)
March 7, 2014
1:00pm – 2:30pm

How to tell the tale with the device in your pocket. The debate about the legitimacy of mobile photography is the inspiration for this workshop that will give participants practical tips about composition and process. It is targeted to students, amateur and professional photographers, visual storytellers and folks across multiple media.

Workshop #2: Photography & Empathy
with Ed Kashi, Amy Yenkin of Open Society Documentary Photography Project, and Oren Ziv of ActiveStills, moderated by PhotoPhilanthropy founder Nancy Farese
March 7, 2014
3:00pm – 4:30pm

There are many ways that photographers illuminate the human experience. One can argue that empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another—is at the heart of the photographic act. Where does one start as a concerned photographer in the digital age? What is the role of empathy and ethics in both your relationship with your subject and your relationship with your audience?

Register for the workshops here.


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“Even though I am still poor, I am not as poor as I was in Mexico.” – Francisco, student from Mexico. Photo by Finding Voice students.

For Josh Schachter, winner of the PhotoPhilanthropy 2010 Activist Awards, photography is a vital language with which he observes, documents, and engages the world. “As a teenager I never felt like I could express myself, but when I discovered the camera it became a conduit for my voice,” he says. “Since then, I have felt driven to create opportunities for youth to explore, discover, and share their own voices and perspectives.”

In partnership with ELD/English teacher Julie Kasper, Schachter co-founded Finding Voice, an innovative literacy and visual arts program dedicated to helping refugee and immigrant youth at Catalina Magnet High School in Tucson, Arizona. The students develop their literacy and English as second language skills by researching, photographing, writing, and speaking out on crucial social issues.

The photographs in the winning essay were part of a semester-long Finding Voice project, during which the students explored the themes of war and immigration. They produced personal essays and portraits of each other that reflected their identities and experiences. The synergy of words and photographs is key for each Finding Voice project. For many students, taking pictures channels their priorities and motivates them to develop their writing skills. As they develop their final pieces, Finding Voice also supports them in identifying strategic audiences for their work. In the case of the winning essay, the students’ portraits and excerpts from their essays were showcased at over 22 bus stops throughout Tucson during one year.

PhotoPhilanthropy: Three years have passed since you won PhotoPhilanthropy’s Activist Award in the category for community-based organizations. Do you think the award has been effective in increasing exposure for your nonprofit?

Josh Schachter: I shared the grant information with our primary funder, the Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC). TPAC announced the grant to the arts community and many other audiences in our region through their newsletter. As a result, it did increase awareness about Finding Voice. We received many emails from the community in response to TPAC’s announcement.

“The only thing that I am sure of is that I want to reach my goals here in Tucson, and I want to stay here for the rest of my life.” – Maria, student from Mexico. Photo by Finding Voice students.

Have you kept in touch with the subjects of your photography work? 

Finding Voice has worked with over 600 refugee and immigrant students, and has kept in touch with them over the past seven years.  Many of our students are successful in college and university settings.  While we certainly cannot attribute this success solely to Finding Voice, regular emails and visits from alumni indicate that this program has had a significant impact on their academic careers, their ability to integrate into the Tucson community, and finding their way in their new homes.

Many alumni of Finding Voice regularly visit the campus and return to help current students. One alumnus formed a refugee youth coalition for the Phoenix area, another formed a debate club, and yet another has become the President of the African-American Students Association at the University of Arizona. Another alumnus was later hired with me by the Tucson Museum of Art to teach photography to other refugee youth.

What projects have you completed since you won the grant?

In 2010 and 2011, Finding Voice collaborated with different community partners to galvanize change in schools, the refugee community, and Tucson at large. One group of students worked with the International Rescue Committee to document the challenges facing refugee youth and their families. They created a city-wide Refugee Youth Coalition, which continues to address these challenges to date. Another team worked with the regional organization called Imagine Greater Tucson (IGT) to gather input from refugee and immigrant communities as part of a regional visioning process. Finding voice students worked with IGT to document their vision of Tucson and produced a large-scale exhibition in the middle of Park Place Shopping Mall.

“I lived through war and violence. I lived through disaster half my life.” – Lawrence, student from Sierra Leone. Photo by Finding Voice students.

During the 2011-2012 school year, we organized a student project on identity, which resulted in the publication of a 170-page book titled “The Book Is Not The Cover.” Through photography and poetry writing, students examined the complexities of their identity though the lenses of culture, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sex, gender, and religion.

Last year, our students selected and examined social and environmental issues. We then brought in over 30 community experts to discuss these issues with them, ranging from deforestation to sexual assault. Pam Simon, survivor of the January 8, 2011 Tucson shooting with former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, explored with the refugee students their shared experiences with gun violence, mental health, and the complexities of gun control policy. A police officer and a former drug addict spoke with another group of students about drug abuse, dealing, and motivations behind crime. These experiences made what they had been researching in the classrooms feel “real,” and connected them to important resources in our community. As a culminating experience, the students produced linocut social justice posters that visually and metaphorically represented different aspects of their research topics.

How do you see your role?

As an artist and community organizer, I see myself as a sort of visual acupuncturist. I strive to illuminate points of constriction, tension and opportunity in a system through creative, community-based experiences. And through this process, I work with communities to implement strategies that transform these “blocked areas” into points of connectivity and possibility.

Do you think your project triggered some sort of social change?

“The only thing that stays the same is changing.” – Ihab, student from Iraq. Photo by Finding Voice students.

Julie and I see a direct correlation between language development and social change. Any immigrant or refugee who learns to use the dominant language of the society in which he or she lives, has greater potential to become an agent of social change. That is the reason we do this work  – to support the development of a critically thinking, articulate, engaged citizenry – and especially the reason we work with student populations who are generally disenfranchised because of language barriers, immigration status, poverty, racism, or other related factors.

As I mentioned earlier, there have been specific projects that have brought about concrete changes on a local level, such as the establishment of a Refugee Youth Coalition in Tucson. However, we have also strived to have impact on a higher policy level. In 2008, the offices of Senator John McCain, Congressman Raul Grijalva, and our city councilmember helped us exhibit student work in the U.S. Senate. They also arranged for six Finding Voice students to present their photographs and testimonies at a Congressional briefing on refugee and immigration policy in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Furthermore, Finding Voice has led to the reconsideration of district policies regarding mental health services in the Tucson Unified School District. This occurred after students held a forum on health issues with local community and district leaders. Many audience members were deeply moved and troubled by the students’ photographs and written texts, which focused on issues of depression and substance abuse.  As a result, representatives from the district visited classes to discuss what kind of health services the students needed.

“Immigrants don’t have anyone to mingle with; all they know is that they are different from other people.” – Silou, student from Liberia. Photo by Finding Voice students

In general, I believe there is increased visibility of the diverse immigrant and refugee community in Tucson. In addition, I’ve observed a greater willingness of local leaders and social service agencies to find solutions to the most pressing issues these communities are facing.  While there is much work yet to be done, our students and their families are no longer invisible or silent. Many have become active leaders in schools, sport associations, and clubs. It would be false to attribute this solely to Finding Voice, but we have seen very significant shifts since the project started. Each year, we find new ways to engage our students and the community in a positive, productive dialogue.

To see more pictures of Finding Voice’s winning photo essay watch PhotoPhilanthropy’s slideshow Voices of Tucson’s Youth Refugees & Immigrants.

For further information about Josh Schachter’s work visit or The Finding Voice Project.

The PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Awards identify outstanding work done by photographers in collaboration with nonprofit organizations worldwide. Since the Activist Award’s inception in 2009, PhotoPhilanthropy has received work from over 500 photographers in 88 countries, representing 435 nonprofit organizations.


Josh Meltzer is the recipient of the PhotoPhilanthropy 2010 Professional Activist Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions of photographers who work with nonprofit organizations worldwide. His striking black and white photography captures moments in the daily lives of internal migrant workers in Mexico, who have moved from rural regions to the city of Guadalajara in search of new opportunities.

Meltzer collaborated with the non-profit American Hands Aiding Latin American Youth (AHALA) and its Mexican non-profit partner CODENI, A Collective for the Rights of Children. The organizations work to offset costs and other hurdles to education and provide after-school tutoring to the city’s most marginalized populations. They also educate the children and their parents about human rights, including rights to health, education, retreats, and home visits.

Antonio Hernandez carries his daughter Angela to her baptism ceremony in Guadalajara where they live rent free in exchange for making bricks. Photo by Josh Meltzer.

PhotoPhilanthropy: Three years have passed since you won PhotoPhilanthropy’s Activist Award in the professional category. In retrospect, do you think the award has been effective in increasing exposure for your nonprofit partners?

Joshua Meltzer: Yes, I believe it was. CODENI and AHALA have been using my images for a while, and this grant was useful for them to gain international exposure to their work as well as to the living conditions of their client families. Furthermore, the loose connection between the university student photographers in Guadalajara and CODENI/AHALA has been strengthened thanks to the PhotoPhilanthropy award. In 2008, I also started a photography course at the university, which the students have continued on a volunteer basis.

Have you kept in touch with any of the children from your workshops and with the subjects from your work?

I’ve kept contact with many of them. Thanks to Facebook, we share notes and photos on a regular basis, with the kids as well as with their parents. CODENI/AHALA have a computer literacy course for some of the mothers, and this has given them the skills to use email and social media to keep in touch. My wife and I have also become the educational sponsors of one of the girls in my project.

How are they children doing today?

They are growing up. Several of them have become parents, perhaps not surprisingly but certainly too early. Many are doing very well. Some of them even attend high school and college – they are among the first in their families. However, one kid featured in my coverage of the brickyard community has sadly become a drug addict, and has abandoned schooling.

Sabastian Salasar sits in a tiny median in downtown Guadalajara, Mexico while he waits for a traffic light to turn so that he can beg for change. Photo by Josh Meltzer.

Christian Servin, 11, tries to make a sale of roses to patrons at a bar late into the evening, several hours after he has finished school. Photo by Josh Meltzer.

What projects have you completed since you won the grant?

The grant has allowed me to attend graduate school, where I focused my final project thesis on continuing this story. I was able to add video to my still photography, creating new stories on internal migration and interviewing subjects I had photographed before. Furthermore, I was able to spend six weeks shooting again in Mexico in 2008, which allowed me to revisit many communities and families where I had worked. Some of them have experience profound changes. The brickyard community, for instance, has been changed completely. There are no more brick ovens. Instead, the entire community has been replaced with public housing units and schools. Unfortunately, this change has come at a cost. Making bricks has been forbidden in the community. However,  no alternative job or career training has filled its place so far.

Additionally, this summer I have been shooting and teaching on a large documentary on the Roma people throughout Eastern Europe as part of a project headed by Rich Beckman, my graduate professor at the University of Miami. It will air this fall on European television and be available online.

I have also returned to teaching at Western Kentucky University. However,  I am branching out a little bit from photography and video to teach infographics and web programming.

Indigenous Huicholes, Juan Lopez, his wife Maria and their daughter Paola, 1, receive a cold stare from a stranger while on a visit to Guadalajara. Photo by Josh Meltzer.

Indigenous brothers Carlos and Juan Isidro ride a bus from their home in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Guadalajara to downtown to sell chips. Photo by Josh Meltzer.

What is your mission? Has it changed since winning the grant?

My mission has always been to find and tell compelling stories that are not covered thoroughly, and to share them with wide audiences. I also find it fulfilling to pass this mission onto my students.

Most importantly, do you feel that your photography triggered some sort of social change? If so, how has this been demonstrated?

In Mexico, there is social awareness of the plight of internal migrants and indigenous peoples throughout the large cities. For the most part, though, that awareness is limited to the young and educated. I have seen developing friendships between students and indigenous people through the project. One woman, whom I photographed in Guadalajara past summer, has become close with several biology students who did research in her community. She has inspired them to become indigenous rights activists. Nonetheless, I don’t think that there has been a huge change yet, or specifically because of my images.

What are your next projects?

I’m looking for locations to host my next show, both in university settings in the U.S. and in Mexico. In addition, I will be releasing my online multimedia project late this summer, which will be fully bilingual.

To see more pictures of Josh Meltzer’s winning photo essay watch PhotoPhilanthropy’s slideshow: Mexican Internal Migration.

For further information about Josh Meltzer’s work visit

The PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Awards identify outstanding work done by photographers in collaboration with nonprofit organizations worldwide. Since the Activist Award’s inception in 2009, PhotoPhilanthropy has received work from photographers in 88 countries, representing 435 nonprofit organizations and shedding light on pressing human rights, public policy, social and environmental issues.


In August, a team at PhotoPhilanthropy and the Telos Group collaborated on a trip to Israel/Palestine Territories to learn first hand about the issues on the ground with the goals of understanding how documentary photography and visual storytelling can facilitate an understanding of the conflict through a lens of common humanity and empathy.

Nasser Ibrahim Awad (35), shepherd. Photo by Eduardo Soteras

There are many and varied ways in which photographers illuminate the human experience. In some respects, one can even argue that empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is at the heart of the photographic act.

“Empathy is at the heart of the photographic act.”

Anthropology was one of the first disciplines to employ the nascent medium of photography for recording and documenting cultures. The participant-observer at the heart of that discipline required a simultaneous distance and closeness to the subject. Documentary photography is distinguished from photojournalism as a practice in which the photographer investigates a social issue through a sustained engagement with the subject. Today we meet a young man who embodies all of the above.

Mohammad (11) inside the closed entrance of an ancient cave in the village of El Merkaz, that used to serve as a shop until it was closed by the army in 1999. Photo by Eduardo Soteras

The South Hebron Hills are home to Palestinians who live a traditional lifestyle dwelling in natural caves and in the villages of this baron landscape as shepherds and farmers, subsisting on the produce of their fields and flocks. It is here that we meet photographer Eduardo Soteras, self-described amateur anthropologist and professional wanderer.  He is at once enigmatic and self-disclosing. His skeleton seems frail – a consequence of his chosen lifestyle. His thick black hair stands sharply on his head and frames his chiseled physiognomy. His story is reminiscent of the decidedly more famous Sebastião Salgado and it is no less compelling.

“My original plan was to have a comfortable place to be able to shoot during summer in the desert…and I ended up with a new family and friends, and a whole new material.”

Born in Cordoba, Argentina, Soteras was a student activist in his home country, a CPA, professor, painter, upholsterer, craftsman and well, the list goes on. But it is here in the Palestinian desert where he has been living in a cave near the South Hebron Hills village of Susiya that he seems most at home. Soteras is an accomplished photographer but he is really here as a visual ethnographer of a way of life that is in danger of disappearing forever. In this instance, it is less the encroachment of modernity and more the Israeli occupation that is an immediate threat to the way of life of the people who have inhabited this land for centuries.

Akhmad Awad (32) holding a newborn goat in the village of Tuba. Photo by Eduardo Soteras

Soteras leads us to his makeshift studio, which he has established in a room of a house with a family he has known for years. The studio doors open to a serene desert vista of windswept earth covered in sand ranging in color from a golden beige to a dark brown and black with no vegetation visible as far as the eye can see. It is from here that Soteras has a distinct vantage point of the people he has come to know and love. The concern he has for them is written on his sun-scorched face, which frowns and looks down reflectively each time he speaks.

“In this new relationship with the tribe, new ideas are coming and new ways to commit.”

Soteras explains that people in the village are instructed and curious about new ideas. “We are now starting to develop a new community project of Permaculture on the village. As you can imagine I have no clue about how to make a place green, but have been able to make the bridge with an organization…and soon we will start planting trees and vegetables. For a culture that has been until one generation ago semi-nomadic, this is a very interesting step.”

The Palestinian villagers in this region face ever-increasing pressure to abandon their homes and their way of life, not because of modernity but because the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have declared large swaths of land to be closed military areas, issued demolition orders for and destroyed dozens of homes and agricultural structures, and relocated populations on numerous occasions in their attempt to encourage the villagers to leave their historical lands and move into urban areas.

We sit with Soteras and his adopted family and drink tea as we talk about the plight of the people and the process of the documentarian. He tells us of his struggles to get funding for his work and we marvel at the dedication of this young man who has chosen a life of solitude and isolation away from family and friends. As we begin to depart, it is clear from the bond he has with his adopted family that Soteras is steeped naturally in the everyday life of the villages.  It is clear that they have accepted him as one of their own. It is also clear that he has won over these people with his authenticity, integrity and passion. Upon leaving we realize that he has also captured our hearts.

Eduardo’s work can be viewed at

PhotoPhilanthtopy’s trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories was hosted by the Telos Group to promote and connect photographers with nonprofit organizations, and gain insights from key organizations and activists on the issues on the ground.


In August, a team at PhotoPhilanthropy and the Telos Group collaborated on a trip to Israel/Palestine Territories to learn first hand about the issues on the ground with the goals of understanding how documentary photography and visual storytelling can facilitate an understanding of the conflict through a lens of common humanity and empathy.

Elias Halabi


Photo by Elias Halabi

Photo by Elias Halabi

Local photo artist Elias Halabi lives in Bethlehem, West Bank, just a short drive away from Jerusalem. Trained as a sociologist, Elias now focuses on telling stories that are not typically covered by mainstream media. He complains that the majority of journalists focus on clashes, soldiers, and children throwing stones. “I am not ignoring this reality. You can’t escape politics; you breathe it in every move.” However, Elias seeks to break these stereotypes. His photographs emerge out of his spontaneous interactions with villagers and his explorations into local cultures.

“I want people to discover the Palestine I see: the beautiful nature, culture, and daily life. Not people under occupation, but just normal people.”


Photo by Elias Halabi

Elias sees himself as an ambassador with the responsibility of showing the richness and diversity of his homeland. His photos often generate surprised reactions from Palestinians living abroad or even locals, who aren’t aware of the beauty lying in front of their door. As a Christian Palestinian, Elias also unveils aspects that aren’t commonly associated with Palestinian identity. His biggest motivation is to make a difference within his own community. He proudly tells the story of Adnan, a cleaning man who has worked for thirty-five years at the University of Bethlehem, but whose work has received little attention. Adnan’s portrait on Facebook received hundreds of comments and messages, thanking him for his work, and led students to approach him on the campus. “This is the change I want to make through my photography,” Elias says, “even if it’s on a small scale.”

Photo by Elias Halabi

Photo by Elias Halabi

Photo by Elias Halabi

PhotoPhilanthtopy’s trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories was hosted by the Telos Groupto promote and connect photographers with nonprofit organizations, and gain insights from key organizations and activists on the issues on the ground.



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In August, a team at PhotoPhilanthropy and the Telos Group collaborated on a trip to Israel/Palestine Territories to learn first hand about the issues on the ground with the goals of understanding how documentary photography and visual storytelling can facilitate an understanding of the conflict through a lens of common humanity and empathy.

Bassem Aramin and Robi Damelin












“Peace comes when you see the humanity in the other”

In 2002, Robi Damelin’s son was shot by a Palestinian sniper while serving in the Israeli army. During PhotoPhilanthropy’s visit to Tel Aviv, Robi sits next to Bassem Aramin, whose daughter was killed at the age of ten by Israeli border guards outside her school in the West Bank. They both have become charismatic activists for the Parents Circle-Families Forum, an organization of Israeli and Palestinian families that have lost close relatives as a result of the conflict. Reflecting on her trajectory and grief, Robi explains: “You have to decide if you want to die with your child, or if you want to prevent other families from experiencing such pain.” Along with Bassem, she now fights to challenge the preconceptions of enemies and victims to carry on a message of dialogue and the prospects of reconciliation. “Peace comes when you see the humanity in the other,” she says. “It’s about reaching out to find the human side in the other.”

Seeing the other as a person

Image by Iris Segev - Courtesy of The Parents Circle

Bereaved Palestinian and Israeli families meet regularly in face-to-face meetings, and a project called Crack in the Wall offers a digital platform for conversation. In addition, the Parents Circle turns to photography and art to challenge attitudes and promote discussions. For its upcoming photo exhibition “The Presence of the Void,” ten Palestinian and Israeli women, aged 18 – 65 years old, illustrated the presence of their lost loved one in their lives. Matched into pairs, the women also captured the void they saw left in the life of the other. The intimate photo series shows how intertwined their fates are. Each tragedy is a two-sided story.

“Photos help achieve [an] emotional break-through”

Image by Meirav Yaron Bar Niv - Courtesy of The Parents Circle


While the Parent’s Circle facilitates processes of personal closure, it doesn’t function as a therapy group. Its goal is to influence public opinion and policy leaders. Robi observes that photography acts as an important motivator for people to come and listen to their accounts. She also points out that it is “our way of opening people’s minds. We want them to see that the others are exactly as we are.” She strongly believes that photographs help to achieve this emotional break-through – or at least plant a seed.

“Photography acts as an important motivator for people to come and listen — our way of opening people’s mind.”


“The Presence of the Void” will be showcased at the Cinematheque Tel Aviv, Israel, on September 28, 10:30 am – 19:30 pm, and at EM Fine Art Seattle, USA, on October 11, 6:30-8:30pm.

PhotoPhilanthtopy’s trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories was hosted by the Telos Group to promote and connect photographers with nonprofit organizations, and gain insights from key organizations and activists on the issues on the ground.


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Photo by Nancy Farese

On my first trip to Africa, I stepped off the plane in Kampala and I noticed the smell. It was woody, pungent and deeply foreign to me. I had 2 camera bodies, 4 lenses, a polarizer, 8 memory cards; I was ready to see Africa. But the smell was unexpected, a blanket of otherness that me made me feel instantly alone, far from home, foolish.  Now I know this smell as deeply embedded in my African experiences, like a random coat that you might find and put on because it’s cold at the time, and eventually you forget that you even have it on. I now see images of children nurturing smoky embers for morning fires, of drinking mysterious teas in cramped huts with a tiny, single source of light and fresh air, and of a mother sweaty with fieldwork leaning heavily on a hoe to balance the baby wrapped tightly to her back. I’ve learned that to see Africa and hear her stories, you must first understand this smell.

Photo by Nancy Farese

Photo by Nancy Farese

I travel as a photographer shooting images for non-profit advocacy; I am a visual storyteller in a village in Northern Ghana with The Carter Center.  There is a Banyan tree that arcs and frames a group of young girls, gathered outside a school. Their heads dance as they lean in to catch gossip then throw them back, falling into giggles, so as I enter I see the schoolyard composing into color, dance and music. The girls are waiting for their teacher to create order so that they can begin to learn about water and worms.

Photo by Nancy Farese

Worms are important here because they’ve caused pain and death for thousands of years, and The Carter Center has dedicated itself to eradicating the Guinea worm from the face of the earth. I am watching, learning, as this global and high-minded battle is fought intimately, individually, in remote villages characterized by unsafe drinking water, poverty, and simply being African. When the campaign began in the 1980s there were 3.5m cases. Now there are literally a handful, and one of them is in this village.

Guinea worm is transmitted only by drinking contaminated water, so the girls sit quietly on school benches with bare feet twisting in the red dust, or stand with swaddled siblings forming mounds on their backs, to learn about the disease. Their daily walk to the lake for water will now include filtering before they weave slowly home with a 20lb jerry can balanced on their thin necks. As a member of The First World, I hear that this might be the first disease to be eradicated without vaccine or medicine, simply changing common habits of water collection. As members of The Third World, they hear of the crippling pain when the spaghetti-like worm makes its way out of your body, and begins to destroy your community.

Photo by Nancy Farese

Photo by Nancy Farese

In the light of schoolyard my eye begins to compose the random activity into blocks of pattern and gesture. I am shooting with a 50mm so I go in close, and I notice the smell again, which I now realize I’ve been wearing since I stepped off the plane. I feel a sun-warmed heat from their skin, see a chin dipping into a shy smile, and lean in for a story that is of another place entirely, yet could be my own. More people gather now, adults in the back watching me with my camera as I watch them. It is exotic, to see a white woman with a camera in this smoky corner of Africa. It is also familiar, to see the community gesture of working together to meet a deadly disease, the buzzing whispers of young girls learning to become adults, and the smell of a place that shows me how to see.

Photo by Nancy Farese

Photo by Nancy Farese

Nancy Farese is the Founder/President of PhotoPhilanthropy. To find out more about how Nancy uses art to create social impact or how your interest in art could support the work of The Carter Center, visit www.nancyfaresephotography. To find out more about The Carter Center’s Guinea worm program, visit



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Liz Hingley is the recipient of the 2012 Activist Award, which recognizes the outstanding contributions of photographers who work with nonprofit organizations worldwide. The series for which she was awarded, The Jones Family, addresses cyclical, inter-generational poverty in Britain and the challenges it poses for those in living through it. Hingley’s work, and that of award winners in the Amateur and Student categories, confirms the success of photographers who collaborate with organizations committed to meaningful and timely social change. Here, Hingley answers questions about her photographic practice and its varied influences.

The Jones Family by Liz Hingley on behalf of Save the Children

You’re trained as both a photographer and an anthropologist. How does your knowledge of the social sciences – theory, methodology, etc. – influence your photographic practice?

The heavy theoretical tuition of my BA photography course at Brighton University formed an important basis of my photographic practice from the start. After graduating, I spent two years investigating contemporary urban faith by documenting the co-existence of religions along one road in Birmingham UK. The rich diversity of religions and variety of different lifestyles I encountered was overwhelming and I sought a deeper theoretical understanding of my subject matter. I began an MSc in Social Anthropology at University College London with little knowledge of what it would entail but with the aim to ground my visual work within academic discourse.

I appreciate that the academic context has given me the confidence to slow down my photographic practice by exploring subject matter in more depth. I go to academic conferences to deepen my knowledge and receive alternative feedback on presentations of my own visual work to that of the photographic industry. The process of research and reflection required in writing academic articles raises interesting and important perspectives on experiences I have in the production of making work as well as the relationship between my subjects and myself.

Reverend Greg Visiting the Twins by Liz Hingley

Meeting at the Rastafarian Headquarters by Liz Hingley

How much contact do you maintain with your subjects/collaborators after a project is finished? Is this important to your practice, and if so, why?

I was initially drawn to photography by the opportunity it offers to have uniquely intimate experiences with strangers whom I would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet. Like all relationships they are built on exchanges, trust and are intuitive, and therefore hard to articulate in words. I see my practice as a process of social relations and aim to relocate daily exchanges in a shared space where boundaries between myself as photographer, and subject as stranger, become permeable.

I am honoured that people share their intimate daily lives with me and I hope I respect this by gaining as deep an understanding as possible of the lives of participants before capturing them on film. I always share the results of my image making and offer exchanges for the time they share with me, for example babysitting or offering car lifts to go shopping. My relationships with people I photograph are always made on the basis that our exchange is for a period of time like many friendships we enjoy throughout life.

Dressing for Mosque by Liz Hingley

There’s a long-standing debate about the efficacy of photography as a tool of and/or for social change. What are your thoughts on the photographer’s ability to activate meaningful social change, specifically through work with an NGO or other charitable organizations?

For me photography is not about photographing per se, nor about technical intricacies, but about engaging with the world and producing important historical documents for the knowledge of culture that recreate a distant world in quotidian detail. Photography’s strength lies in its potential as a medium to question, arouse curiosity, hear different voices or see through different eyes.

I do not have a clear answer about the efficacy of photography as a tool of and/or for social change as I see photography used in many ways in the charitable sector both productive and often, I feel, not. I see a lot of easy hard hitting visuals around but clever campaigns of visual quality can only be built on understanding and long term relationships, and there are understandably rarely resources for this. The project with the Jones family was the first time that the charity Save the Children had ever commissioned such a long-term documentation using real people to tell their own stories rather than actors.

The Jones Family by Liz Hingley on behalf of Save the Children

You write about trying not to disrupt the flow of life/interactions in the Jones home with your presence and equipment. How effective were you? How did you overcome the “watched pot” phenomenon with your subjects, so as to record uncensored exchanges?

My photographs develop through collaboration between my subjects and myself as image-makers, to the extent that I seek opinions on how they wish to be represented and allow them to intervene in positioning themselves. I recognise that in order to gain the most expressive, revealing and truthful images, I should spend the majority of my time observing and conversing with my subjects in their environments.

I cannot separate myself from my own familiar world completely and at the same time keep an important evaluative distance, but I have to submit myself to the experiences of disorientation, vulnerability and ignorance and in a sense learn to see again through others’ eyes.

Over the duration of my projects I become aware of the questions that matter and develop a confident analytical narrative voice. I acquire a new toolkit for each situation and learn to avoid overtly intentional and descriptive imagery. In this sense I find parallels between my work and that of Edward Weston who stated that his photographs involve learning to see his subject matter in terms of the capacity of his tools and processes so that he can instantaneously translate the elements and values in a scene before him into the photograph he wants to make.

The Jones Family by Liz Hingley on behalf on Save the Children

Your projects have taken up a broad spectrum of issues including inter-generational poverty, the growth of multi-faith communities, and homelessness and identity. How do you select your subjects, and how do you gain entry to communities and their members that may not want to be photographed?

My educational and social backgrounds have both had a profound influence on the development of my creative vision. I grew up as the daughter of two Anglican priests in an inner city deprived area of Birmingham, one of the UK’s most culturally diverse cities, where over 90 different nationalities now live. At Brighton University I gained a BA (Hons) in Documentary Photography and then moved to a wealthy and fascist town in Northern Italy to complete a scholarship at a research and communications department for young artists and journalists from around the world. During these experiences I became aware of the cultural and social specificity of my upbringing. I developed an interest in the huge economical and cultural divides in society as well as the growth of multi-faith communities in inner-city contexts and the complex issues of immigration, secularism and religious revival. I have an ongoing fascination and excitement for the diversity of people and I seek to celebrate human spirit often in difficult circumstances.

Polish Catholic Chef by Liz Hingley


Fran Meckler for PhotoPhilanthropy on behalf of Descendants of the Incas

If we had known that the village was at 13,500 ft., we might have been more wary. In a distracted chat we swayed back and forth as the van climbed the hairpin turns of the Urubamba Valley, gaping at the geometry of ancient farming terraces and the vague forms of Inca ruins. Cameras nestled familiarly like a kid with a favorite ball, we were deep into technical discussions of ISO in the overcast light, best aperture for capturing detail, and whether to use polarizing filters in camera or make adjustments in post. Thus when we arrived at Acchanta Village with technical details swirling in our heads, and were met by a group of kids, then women, in a rainbow of glorious fabrics, beautiful smiles, and an equal curiosity to know and engage, it is no surprise that I, for one, nearly passed out. Welcome to the Andes, and pass that coco tea!

Phil Halperin for PhotoPhilanthropy on behalf of Descendants of the Incas

Leslie Walker Burlock for PhotoPhilanthropy on behalf of Descendants of the Incas

Nancy Farese for PhotoPhilanthropy on behalf of Descendants of the Incas

We are on a PhotoPhilanthropy workshop in Peru led by National Geographic photographer Chris Rainier. We acclimatized in the soaring altitude of Cusco, shooting Inca ruins, local markets and the Fiesta de la Cruz, a real bonus. Every night we recap over Pisco Sours. However, our real purpose is to hone our skills in the use of photography as a social tool, and Nilda Calanaupa, Director of Descendants of the Incas, is our guide.

Sally Ward for PhotoPhilanthropy on behalf of Descendants of the Incas

It is immediately apparent that Nilda is A Woman Who Gets Things Done, and she is as comfortable with a PowerPoint presentation as she is trekking the high Andean villages monitoring textile quality and delivering bananas to children who have no fresh fruit in their diets. The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco has harnessed the power of 600 weavers, organized co-opts and created distribution with a dual goal of reestablishing a craft practiced for more than 2000 years and improving the economy in the 10 participating villages. The work of Nilda’s organization has positioned Peru as one of the finest textile producers in the world, and she travels to the US to promote both their goods and their social development methodology.

Sally Ward for PhotoPhilanthropy on behalf of Descendants of the Incas

Phil Halperin for PhotoPhilanthropy on behalf of Descendants of the Incas

Fran Meckler for PhotoPhilanthropy on behalf of Descendants of the Incas

Our work is to create powerful visual tools for Nilda to tell her story. Chris is the expert, and he stages shoots, suggests compositions, and keeps everyone productive as our heads spin with the altitude and the swarms of ruddy-cheeked kids who peek at us behind skirts but will sit with a serious gaze and stare intently back into our lens. Once again, I am reminded of the value of my camera to take me places I Don’t Otherwise Belong, as Susan Meiselas has said. This week we’ve found ourselves playing soccer with a giggling group of teen girls sheltered by wonderful hats that look like sunflowers; smiling with a 16-year-old girl with a tiny baby on her back weaving a cloth that will take her 45 days to complete; admiring the skills of Nilda as she improves the lives of so many through quiet, remarkable leadership. We can’t lead these people away from precipitous poverty, but we can add our photography to support Nilda while she does.

Nancy Farese for PhotoPhilanthropy


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