Take a look at the winning photo essays from the 5th annual Activist Awards.


Comments Off

View all submissions to this year’s Activist Awards here.

Photo by Andri Tambunan on behalf of Klinik Kalvari

Andri Tambunan, a Jakarta-based photographer, was named winner of the 5th annual Activist Awards in the professional category for his photo essay, Against All Odds: The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Papua, shot on behalf of the NGO Klinik Kalvari.

The live-judging event took place on March 8, 2014 in San Francisco with renowned photojournalist and filmmaker Ed Kashi serving as Master of Ceremonies. The event was also live-streamed and viewed across the world.

Against All Odds investigates the causes of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Papua, Indonesia and documents the hardships, struggles, and triumphs of the indigenous Papuans who are facing the epidemic head on.

Klinik Kalvari provides quality health care at low or no cost for illnesses and diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.

When making their selection, the Awards judges noted the difficulty in getting information and photographs out of Papua, a small province in Indonesia which for many years barred entry of foreign journalists and NGOs.

The two finalists in the professional category were Moises Saman for his photo essay, Nowhere People: The Refugees of Syria shot on behalf of Save the Children and Khaled Hasan for his project Leave Me Alone: Acid Victim in Bangladesh shot on behalf of Oxfam GB.

Photo by Matthieu Zellweger on behalf of International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease and AIDS Partners

Matthieu Zellweger was named the winner in the Amateur category for his project, From Burma with (Infected) Love, shot on behalf of International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease and AIDS Partners. The two finalists in the Amateur category were Leslie Alsheimer for her project, A Moment in the Glass: The Secret Life of Uganda’s Daughters, shot on behalf of Soft Power Health and Darya Komleva for her project The Blue Leopard Lives Here, shot on behalf of Karaganda Regional Ecological Museum in Kazakhstan.

Photo by Turjoy Chowdhury on behalf of Bridge Club International Organization / Bridge Club of Bangladesh

Turjoy Chowdhury, was named the winner in the Student category for his project, Savar Tragedy, that documents the aftermath of an eight-story commercial building that collapsed in Savar, Dhaka in 2013 killing 1,127 workers and wounding 3,000 more. Chowdury’s project was shot on behalf of Bridge Club International Organization / Bridge Club of Bangladesh. The two finalists in the Student category were Jekaterina Saveljeva for her photo essay Left Behind: The Plight of Tanzania’s Orphans shot on behalf of Simon Cumbers Media Fund and Magda Rakita for her project West Point Girls shot on behalf of More Than Me in Liberia.

Judges for this year’s Activist Awards were:

Ed Kashi, photojournalist and filmmaker, member of VII Photo, who also served as the Awards Master of Ceremonies.

Carroll Bogert, Deputy Executive Director for External Relations for Human Rights Watch.

Richard Koci Hernandez, Emmy award winning video and multimedia producer and photojournalist and Assistant Professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

James Wellford, photo editor and curator and former Senior International Photo Editor at Newsweek Magazine.

Amy Yenkin, Director of the Documentary Photography Project at Open Society Foundations.

Oren Ziv, a documentary and news photographer and co-founder of the Israeli/Palestinian photo collective ActiveStills.

About the Activist Awards:

PhotoPhilanthropy’s Activist Awards recognize outstanding documentary photography done on behalf of nonprofit organizations worldwide. PhotoPhilanthropy solicits experts in the field to judge entries submitted by professional, amateur and student photographers. The prizes range from $2,000-$15,000. The Activist Awards to date have garnered submissions from more than 600 photographers on behalf of more than 500 nonprofit organizations from more than 90 different countries.

The winning entries and other submissions to the Activist Awards will be considered for PhotoPhilanthropy’s exhibition program and will be reviewed by the Library of Congress for possible inclusion in their collection.

Photo by Moises Saman on behalf of Save the Children

Photo by Khaled Hasan on behalf of Oxfam GB

Photo by Leslie Alsheimer on behalf of Soft Power Health

Photo by Darya Komleva on behalf of Karaganda Regional Ecological Museum

Photo by Jekaterina Saveljeva on behalf of Simon Cumbers Media Fund

Photo by Magda Rakita on behalf of More Than Me


Comments Off

PhotoPhilanthropy recently collaborated with EyeEm to bring you a unique mission. We asked you to take mobile photos of social and environmental issues you care about. We received almost 1400 photos by over 400 contributors, which you can discover in the Your Photo for Social Change album on EyeEm.

The winner was announced live on March 8, 2014, at the Activist Awards in San Francisco. Congratulations to @mazidighani, the grand prize winner! He receives a photo critique by renowned photojournalist Ed Kashi and gets featured on the EyeEm and PhotoPhilanthropy blogs.

A big congratulations to the four runners-up:

An additional 15 images were chosen to complement the winning photographs and show the breadth of issues covered by this mission. Thank you to everyone who participated!

This blog post was originally posted on the EyeEm blog.

To see more great photos, check out the Your Photo for Social Change album on EyeEm. Thank you for being a part of this mission.


Comments Off

On March 8, PhotoPhilanthropy will host the 5th annual Activist Awards. In the past few weeks we’ve been featuring interviews with this year’s panel of judges. (Read parts onetwo and three).

Today we hear from Amy Yenkin, the director of the Open Society Documentary Photography Project, based in New York City. 

Photo by Mark Leong from Hong Kong Under China part of Moving Walls 21. © Mark Leong/Redux Pictures

You’ve been working in photography and activism for many years. What first got you interested in photography and when did you realize the power of photography to advance social change?

I came into this field by luck. It was 1997 and I was working at the Open Society Foundations as the Associate Director of U.S. Programs and we were moving to a new building with a lot of wall space. I heard that photography might be installed and I wanted to get involved. Before I knew it, I was running the Moving Walls exhibition. But I had a lot to learn! I was fortunate to have our two curators, Susan Meiselas, a Magnum photographer, and Stuart Alexander, of Christies, to teach me.

After a few years, I developed my expertise and hired a professional staff. The program grew from there but the idea was always that we were not just supporting photography for photography’s sake but rather for what it could do to advance human rights and social justice issues. Over time through our support of many projects we’ve learned what makes a project strong. Visuals and a compelling message are key, of course. But you also have to know what you are trying to accomplish with your photos (beyond general awareness) and who you are trying to reach.

Photo by Diana Markosian from Goodbye My Chechnya part of Moving Walls 21. © Diana Markosian/Reportage by Getty Images

You helped establish the annual Moving Walls exhibition. How has that evolved over the years? Can you talk a bit about what it means to honor these photographers in this public way?

When Moving Walls started over 15 years ago, many long term projects were being submitted for consideration. I mean, photographers working on projects for 5, 10, 15 years. At that time, there was still support through mainstream media for production. Photographers were able to make a living working for news outlets but still had resources and support to pursue personal projects. The issue was more with distribution as there were not many places to show a large body of work, either physically or within magazines. That’s all changed. Support for production and distribution have fallen away. I’m not seeing as many long term projects. Photographers just don’t have the time, space, and funding for this and it shows in the overall quality and depth of the work out there.

In this context, Moving Walls feels more important to me than when it started since it validates and recognizes long term documentary work (and the photographers who are doing it) by giving the work a place where it can be seen physically, not just online. The physical experience is important because you feel a different connection when you see the work together in one place, rather than moving slide by slide.

How is the rise of mobile photography changing your work?

We are interested in visual storytelling, no matter the method or platform used to produce or distribute. I am not seeing many long term projects being produced using mobile technology but I think that will evolve. What we are seeing is photographers using Instagram to form a direct connection with their audience and that’s exciting.

You’ll be taking part in a PhotoPhilanthropy workshop about photography and empathy. What comes to mind when you think about the role empathy plays in photography?

I think we need to move beyond generating empathy by giving viewers a path to respond. Many photographers want to “do something” with their work so that it can have an impact on an issue. The challenge is to move beyond eliciting a strong reaction or connection by giving the audience a way to get involved. I do not care for what I call shock photography – images that are very upsetting but that do not do anything more than just make you upset or feel helpless. The best projects empower both the subject and the viewers and do not rely on the same visual tropes that we often see repeated.

Who are some of the photographers whose work you’ll be sharing during the workshop?

I’m going to be discussing several projects during the workshop – I can name a few here.

I’ll be showing Shannon Jensen’s images of the shoes worn by Sudanese refugees as an example of a project that has had a tremendous response from viewers. Shannon initially shot more typical news images of refugees but could not get any media to respond. When she shifted her camera to the shoes, something different happened – people responded, the media responded. Something so simple ended up becoming so powerful. We can all relate to shoes and by not showing us the people wearing them, we are left to imagine their faces, their stories.

I’m also going to show how Eric Gottesman (who photographed people living with the stigma of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia) and Pete Muller (who photographed women who had been sexually assaulted in the Congo) worked closely and creatively with their subjects to protect their identities.

Finally, I’m going to show two innovative projects that used photography to bring about changes in the criminal justice system: Laurie Jo Reynolds and the Tamms Year 10 Campaign (to close a supermax prison in IL and end the use of long term solitary confinement); and Lori Waselchuk who photographed and exhibited a prison hospice program.

Any thoughts on the upcoming Activist Awards?

As I reviewed the proposals, I was pleased to see that, despite cutbacks in funding, there are so many photographers who are committed to working on hard issues and partnering with NGOs. I really admire the commitment. Also, I’ve judged a lot of contests but have never done it live, in real time, in front of an audience, so am excited – and a little nervous – about that experience. I think it will make all of us focused and thoughtful.

Join us on March 8, 2014, for the live-stream of the 5th Annual Activist Awards. More information and full program here.
Take a look at this video of Amy Yenkin’s mentor and Moving Walls co-curator, Susan Meiselas, talking about the power of social documentary photography:


Comments Off

On March 7, PhotoPhilanthropy is hosting two photography workshops in San Francisco in the lead up to our annual Activist Awards. The first workshop will explore mobile photography and storytelling, with panelists Ed Kashi, Richard Koci Hernandez, and Instagram’s Tyson Wheatley. Visual storyteller and educator André Hermann will be serving as moderator for this workshop and we asked him to do a blog post about his approach to mobile street photography. André will also be hosting the live-stream of the Activist Awards on March 8. Check out more of his work on Instagram.

Photo by André Hermann

By André Hermann

Street photography to me is a pure form of documentary photography, voyeuristic in nature. It is the visual art of observation—seeing and recognizing the exciting, extraordinary, ignored, unguarded and mundane fleeting moments that help define our daily existence.

I approach photographing people on the street as a silent observer. Tuned in to my environment, I look through the screen of my iPhone like a peephole into the intimate happenings of the world around me, looking for the subtle moments that I feel help define the rhythm of life passing me by on the streets. The visual symphony that often goes unseen by people already distracted by their own worlds, and increasingly by their handheld screens.

I silently share moments with people, my subjects unaware as I walk by framing their fleeting lives through the viewfinder of my iPhone. No one knows the camera is even being pointed at them leaving reality truly unaltered. It is a lonely life making pictures like this, knowing that I will never stop to introduce myself and share the image that captured their moment. Honestly, it’s never been a line that I have wanted to cross as a street photographer. Well, there were a few times I flirted with the idea. Otherwise, I’ve always preferred to be invisible.

Photo by André Hermann

The question haunts me from time-to-time though. “Is it OK that I do not personally interact with my subjects on the street?” I can recall one instance when I created a beautiful portrait of a commuter lit with window light on the BART train. The moment captured was simple, quiet. I really wanted to share the image with him, share the moment I recorded. We both got off at the same station. As he walked ahead of me to exit to the street I tried to compose myself to confront him, introduce myself, and share the image. I couldn’t. Something deep down told me not to. It just didn’t feel right. We had no idea who each other were, and I could only imagine what the ramifications of our meeting might be. I allowed the man to disappear on the street, and kept our shared moment to myself. After that day I retired the idea of ever trying to directly meet and share my images with people I photograph on the street.

I recently moved to Houston, Texas. A few days before I left, I wanted to spend one last day walking around the streets of San Francisco. That morning after getting a cup of coffee, I made my way towards Chinatown. Across the street I saw a figure slumped over holding a sign. My intuition told me to make the picture. I slowly walked by and gave my attention to him, capturing the silent moment as people walked by ignoring him. This person was no stranger to me. I had seen him and his sign before—many times over, around the same area in the past. He never made eye contact with anyone, only sat there quietly with his sign.

Photo by André Hermann

After passing, I reviewed the image as I walked. There was a quiet calm to this moment. I processed it and posted to Instagram. I didn’t know his name. I didn’t know his story beyond what his sign advertised. I didn’t stop.

I never stopped to ask. I felt like this attitude posed a moral dilemma. As visual storytellers, how important is it to identify our subjects? How important is it for our audience to connect with an individual through a picture? Do we need to know a name? Do we need to see a face in order to humanize our subjects, or are the subtle details that we chose to include in the image enough to tell the whole story? It is a question that I do not have an answer for.

I choose to create and share images such as these because I want people to stop for a moment and see what they missed. We’re too distracted on the street, or feel too uncomfortable to take a moment to physically show we care. This is where the power of Instagram as a global community changes everything. I can share these images with potentially billions of people. What was once physically ignored on the street, now has everyone’s virtual attention in my community. Even if it’s only for one brief second that they see the image in their feed, the value is that they saw it. Not everyone will understand or care why I photographed a homeless person, and retreat back to their kittens, pretty girls and food porn. Some may even call it an easy subject, and cliché. But some will care enough to further question the topic. Who is he? Where does he sleep at night? Does he have a family? These are the questions that I would ask if I were to pursue his story. But because I no longer live there, because I chose to keep my distance from subjects on the street like this, every time I look at this image these questions will haunt me. That is the price I pay as a street photographer.


Watch this video of André making iPhone cyanotypes and working in the field.


Comments Off

This month on the blog we’ve been featuring interviews with the judges of our 5th annual Activist Awards, taking place on March 8. (Read parts one and two).

Today we hear from Carroll Bogert, the Deputy Executive Director for External Relations at Human Rights Watch. We sent Carroll a list of questions and she sent back this great assessment on the importance of photography in the work of nonprofits.

Photo by Marcus Bleasdale on behalf of Human Rights Watch

By Carrol Boggert

I’m really excited about the Activist Awards that PhotoPhilanthropy is sponsoring. It’s important for photographers and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to find new ways of working together.

We started using photography consistently in the work of Human Rights Watch less than ten years ago. Marcus Bleasdale’s extraordinary work in Congo became a model of how photographers and human rights activists could collaborate successfully. We sent the late Tim Hetherington to Chad to follow the consequences of the violence in Darfur; he became one of our closest partners.

The web made it impossible for NGOs to ignore photography. As a research and advocacy organization, Human Rights Watch was in the word business: reports, op-eds, congressional testimony, briefing papers. But we couldn’t just slap texts up on a website and expect to get any traffic. If nothing else, we were compelled to obtain visuals just to prettify I’m sure the same was true for many other NGOs.

But once we started using photography in earnest, we discovered how powerful it could be. Now, Human Rights Watch produces dozens of photography features and videos every year; we have won two Peabodys for excellence in journalism (for our work on Papua New Guinea and on Russian civil society) and our YouTube channel has more than eight million views. Working with visuals has transformed the way Human Rights Watch does business.

Like photographers, we see things that we want other people to see. Our researchers in the field are eyewitnesses to atrocities. We share a common bond with photographers of having actually seen, with our own eyes, what is going on in the 90 countries where we work. Some photographers appreciate the chance to work with us because they want to do more than witness events — like us, they want to have a role in trying to change them, to secure justice, to stop the abuses they have seen.

Frankly, almost anybody who has seen these atrocities wants them to stop. I believe the urge to stop human rights abuse springs naturally from the very act of seeing it. Maybe not for everybody, but for many.

Photo by Will Baxter on behalf of Human Rights Watch

At Human Rights Watch, we find that we have considerably more impact with our research when it is accompanied by photography and video. A much wider range of media outlets publish and broadcasts our findings. Audiences are transported to the places we are talking about when they can actually see what it looks like. Even our advocacy targets — the people in governments around the world whom we are trying to persuade to do things differently — are moved by pictures. A video we made about lead poisoning in a Nigerian village had a big impact on a conference of medical professionals to whom we showed it in Abuja. The Nigerian government committed $4 million to clean up the villages.

Video in particular allows us to be a megaphone for victims and survivors of human rights abuse. We have always considered that a key element of our work: we bring the words and experiences of forgotten, overlooked people to the international media and to policymakers. Now, we can do that in a really direct way. Instead of quoting people in our reports, we are letting them speak straight to the camera — and then bringing those images to thousands, even hundreds of thousands of viewers.

One of the doctors at that conference in Nigeria told us that our video was the “only way that the events in that village could be brought into this room.” Wherever we can, we bring the dispossessed straight to the powerful, and make them listen. It changes the conversation.

We have learned that photography entails a range of critical security concerns. What does informed consent mean? How do we know when we’ve got it? When is it alright to publish images of a child? Our very first principle is that no harm should come to the person we are depicting in imagery. We draw the lines in different places than a lot of journalists. We have learned that we can only work with photographers who understand and respect our standards.

Having started with photography, we now understand that we need to do much more. We publish more video than still photography these days; it is more easily used by broadcast media and gets a bigger audience on our own site as well. We have more than two million followers on social media, where visuals are easily re-tweeted and re-posted. We have added a satellite imagery analyst to our staff and have produced entire reports based on his work. We are also introducing maps, charts, and other forms of graphics. And we are putting all of that into multiple languages, for a media market that is hungry for our material all day every day, all around the world.

Today, we know that we have to be on multiple platforms, in multiple formats, and in multiple languages with all of our work. That’s where the journey of photography has brought us.

All this is expensive. Not wanting to take any funds away from the core mission of research and advocacy at Human Rights Watch, we have supported multimedia production through special fundraising. A tiny handful of donors have made all of this possible. And one of the biggest grants expires in 2014! We’re desperately trying to fill that gap.

There are so many wonderful photographers whom we wish we could work with, if we had more resources. Hats off to the men and women who still find ways of covering the most important stories in the world, even as the mainstream media have fewer resources to pay for it. They’re dong important and necessary work. We salute them.


Take a look at this video produced by Platon on behalf of Human Rights Watch. Part of the Peabody Award-winning multimedia feature Acting Up: Russia’s Civil Society.



Nicaragua, 2013. Photo courtesy of Ed Kashi

Ed Kashi is one of the world’s most prominent sociopolitical photojournalists. With a slew of awards under his arm, not least of which was UNICEF’s Photo of the Year 2010, he works tirelessly to draw international attention to issues happening around the world. Having captured situations from Northern Ireland to Nicaragua, his search for powerful images has taken him to some of the most dangerous places on earth.

Our current Your Photo For Social Change mission with EyeEm is offering one lucky winner a chance not only to be featured at the PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Awards ceremony on March 8, but also to receive a personal photo essay critique from Ed Kashi. 

EyeEm met with Ed Kashi to talk about some of his current projects and inspirations. This interview was originally posted on their blog.

Ed Kashi. Photo courtesy of Ed Kashi

Where did it all begin? What inspired you to take photographs about issues and challenges around the world?

I came of age during a time where politics, culture and important social issues all collided and blended into one. I also discovered storytelling in high school. The two came together perfectly as I fell in love with photography and found my voice and vision in the medium of visual storytelling.

I am inspired by issues both domestic and geopolitical, that reflect the difficult and challenging conditions of my lifetime. Using photography, filmmaking and journalism for me is a way to learn about these issues and try to raise awareness and promote change.

You have shot some incredible projects dealing with all sorts of different causes. How do you choose which cause you get involved with?

I find my projects through a combination of what touches me personally and from commissions and opportunities that open me up to issues I would otherwise not have been able to work on.

One of your most recent projects deals with the civil war in Syria and young Syrian refugees who see their homeland collapse. Please tell us more about the project.

I had wanted to go for many months to produce a film about the plight of young Syrian refugees and was able to work with the International Medical Corps, who work intimately on the issue of mental health among Syrian youth.

Fortunately, I was able to go to Iraq and Jordan with their support to do the reporting and produce this film. I have been to Syria many times since 1991, and it’s soul destroying to see what’s happening to that country and its youth. This film is an attempt to raise awareness of the innocent victims of this conflict.

Your subjects are often experiencing extreme hardship and deprivation. The potential power of a photograph is huge, but dramatically different from the material needs of these people right now. How do you explain the importance of your work to these people?

Sometimes it’s impossible to make people understand. I have come to realize that often what these folks need is tangible help and support, not the vague promise that their story will somehow bring relief.

But I have learned to work in a respectful, dignified and gentle way, so at least the interchange and collaborations with my subjects leave them feeling like they were not ripped off by allowing me into their lives. This is a very tricky equation, one I’m more and more cognizant of.

That’s why it’s so important to be clear on my mission and purpose. And I continue to believe in the power of visual storytelling to make a difference.

You have recently worked on a project about immigrants in The Netherlands, France and the UK, choosing portrait photography and interviews as a means to tell the story. What were the stories you encountered?

I encountered a British policeman whose family was from the Caribbean, but when he’s out of uniform he is stopped and questioned by the police, a Senegalese man living in Paris who was elected to the city council but coming home from the night of his election victory he was stopped, thrown on the ground and questioned like a criminal, a Moroccan man in Holland who is constantly hassled by the police and a Jamaican mom who works for the London School of Economics and her teenage son has been stopped so many times by the police he doesn’t want to leave the house anymore.

What all these stories, there were 36 in all, showed us is that these tactics alienate and make them enemies of the state instead of integrating them into the fabric of society. While we all want terrorism and criminality to be stopped, is it worth the price of creating such discontent and potentially even greater societal problems?

Racial Profiling, 2012. Photo courtesy of Ed Kashi

Racial Profiling, 2012. Photo courtesy of Ed Kashi

Racial Profiling, 2012. Photo courtesy of Ed Kashi

Your photos are incredibly raw and close to the subject, telling stories of very severe causes and situations. Have you ever had any difficult moments, or been too close to the action? Is it sometimes difficult to deal with these situations emotionally?

I have absorbed much pain and suffering, and witnessed violence and the neglect of a world where the poor suffer greatly. The collective feeling resonates deeply inside of me, informing my daily life.

While I’ve had some close calls, particularly in Iraq and Nigeria, given the deaths and maiming of my colleagues in recent years, my close calls are somehow irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. This is the job I’ve chosen to do. I weigh the risks and do what I believe is possible.

Right now you are crowdfunding a campaign to support sugar cane workers in Nicaragua. What do you want to achieve with it and how can we support it?

My goal is to return to Nicaragua to create more images and film the workers, their families and the community to show the world what is going on. I intend to create a short film and expand the photographic body of work I’ve already created to allow for use by NGOs and foundations to advocate for solutions and find the cause of this deadly and growing disease that is killing thousands of sugar cane workers in Nicaragua and also in places like India and Sri Lanka.

Nicaragua, 2013. Photo courtesy of Ed Kashi

Nicaragua, 2013. Photo courtesy of Ed Kashi

What tips would you give to aspiring photographers?

Be ready for a lot of defeat and frustration, you must be passionate and belief in yourself and your work. Create a great body of work that shows a point of view, a vision and personal approach. Own a subject, issue, style, area… distinguish yourself.

And be prepared to work incredibly hard for little money. But if you can make it work, you’ll live a life rich in experience, human engagement and the pure joy of creating and sharing your work.

You have also written articles on iPhoneography and are sharing your photos to social networks. How does mobile/connected photography change the landscape and what does it mean to your work as a visual storyteller?

Mobile photography has expanded our ability to tell stories, create compelling imagery and engage with the world in a new way, where direct contact is possible in real time. While there are deleterious effects on the business of photography, at least in the short term, the joys of creation and engagement are, for the moment, worth it.

The main prize for our current mission Your Photo for Social Change in partnership with EyeEm is a personal photo essay critique by you. What kind of results are you expecting/looking forward to?

I always try to keep an open mind and open heart. I’ll know it when I see it. My hope is to see work that embodies the spirit of creativity mixed with a social conscience.

Thank you Ed for answering our questions!

Do you want to win a personal photo essay critique by Ed Kashi? Take part in Your Photo for Social Change and get the chance to be featured at this year’s Activist Awards in San Francisco.

This interview was originally posted on EyeEm’s blog.


Comments Off

On March 8, 2014, PhotoPhilanthropy will host the 5th annual Activist Awards, honoring the past year’s outstanding work done by photographers in collaboration with nonprofit organizations worldwide. We have an amazing panel of judges for this year’s awards and in the coming weeks we will be posting a short Q&A with each of them.

Today we hear from James Wellford, the Brooklyn-based photo editor and curator and former International Photo Editor at Newsweek.

You were the International Photo Editor at Newsweek Magazine. What does it mean for news photography that the magazine ceased its print edition?

News photography remains vibrant and alive despite the troubling economic conditions that have battered the community. And what a community! Creative, concerned, courageous, and articulate people who engage and chronicle the world we live in. They engage life in such emotionally raw circumstances and really are messengers to not only the world we live in but importantly also to a time and place that will soon enough be our collective history. How fortunate we are that they chronicle the stories and emotions of our time. I have always admired the talented people who devote themselves to the calling and have felt fortunate to be part of their world. Lets face it, a room full of photojournalists is an exceptional room for ideas; stimulating, informed, serious, hilarious, motivated, driven by enquiry, always searching for meaning and purpose.

On the Newsweek question, I was sorry to see the magazine close because despite the inherent financial troubles and poor direction of the publication under editors who wanted more tabloid and less news, the place was still significant as a stage to show compelling photography. In its last years, this rarely happened in the domestic magazine but the international editions continued to celebrate the photograph and the formidable shooters who make them. Newsweek still lives in some capacity online and I have heard that the print edition will be resurrected. I wish the enterprise all success since for so many years it was an important place for photography. Still, the days when the place had arguably one of the strongest mastheads of contributing photographers at any publication (Alex Majoli, Luc Delahaye, Chris Anderson, Charles Ommanney, etc) appear to be over. I still remember the accelerated and downward spiral of the place when they abolished the photographers on the masthead. Those who were in control of the mag had no idea who the shooters were and had no sense, and worse respect, for all the contributions these photographers and many others had made to the mag for years. Without them, the place lacked any discernible personality as far as I was concerned. I celebrate the many places that still support photojournalism, and there fortunately are many.

From the exhibition Projections of Reality, curated by James Wellford

You’ve curated a number of photo exhibitions that address issues of social change. Can you say a few words about the power of viewing photos in a public setting as opposed to in a book or online?

Any method to see and engage image can be thrilling. A good book can scar your imagination forever and I often think books are the eternal way a photographer makes a statement about their work and motivations. This is not to say all photo books work. But those that do can feel biblical in their emotional impact. Online too has great merit because of the space available to show more work and to allow a story to breathe. Exhibitions though excite me because of their capacity to fully immerse a viewer and I hope to engage a greater public, people beyond the sphere of the photography and journalism worlds.. Dimension is bigger, size compels, proximity or the feeling of closer proximity matters. I always think of the political and social nature of photography. Exhibition space creates an immediacy of interaction with the viewer, raises questions of intent and meaning, and hopefully ignites dialogue on not only aesthetics but issues. Photographs, these many windows to the world, transform rooms and walls, and when a show works, transport a viewer to that other world. Projection and wheat pasting images to surfaces, interior and exterior, are particularly exciting for me when juxtaposed to more traditional framed work. The combination of tactile sensation and surface from wheat pasting together with the dream sense of projected images when they are temporary and brief and particularly effective to imagination creates a potent combination for me.

Who are some of your favorite photographers working in areas of social change?

The list is long. Too long. I will mention a few. Some will probably contest that their work can create social change but I believe it sets a standard for that. In no particular order, Eugene Richards, Brenda Ann Kenneally, Tim Hetherington, Alex Majoli, Guy Tillim, Laurent van der Stockt, Lynsey Addario, Jan Banning, Vanessa Winship, Stanley Greene, Cedric Gerbehaye, Brigitte Grignet, Q Sakamaki, Thomas Dworzak, Ian Teh, Bieke Depoorter, and on and on and on…… and you know who you are and that I love and am challenged by your work and celebrate your creativity and gifts to the world. There are so many remarkable photographers, so many exceptional people in the field! My list is too long and this version incomplete but hopefully you get an idea of how absolutely viral the talent and visual conversation is with just these names at the communications crossroads.

Musa Qala, Helmand. 2010 by Teru Kuwayama @terukuwayama

How is mobile photography changing the way news stories are being reported?

The word that comes to mind is speed! Inundation also. There is a phenomenal and wonderful aspect to the immediacy and in the hands of a good shooter the images can be extraordinary. It is worth looking at the Teru Kuwayama Basetrack project to see the potential of mobile. Teru, Balazs Gardi, Rita Leistner, and all those who worked on that project remind us that what is fundamental in the medium is how the photographer sees and what they are capable of capturing in spite of the restrictions of the camera, any camera. Michael Christopher Brown is also doing exceptional work as has Ben Lowy with the medium. The last pictures I ever received from Tim Hetherington were iPhone. I remain indebted and fascinated by photography as a craft and adore and support the making of news stories (all story) with any camera. Yes, this includes film. I often think of the children’s story the Tortoise and the Hare. Speed and immediacy always triumph seemingly but there is great merit in the evolving news story and to this extent slowing down with a camera can be extraordinary. Back to Tim. He sent iPhone images to sketch the madness of Libya but was actually shooting a Mamiya 7, involving himself in immediacy but concerned with the longer term sense and impact of the story.

You teach at the International Center of Photography in New York and are a Knight Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. What trends are you seeing among your students?

An immense curiosity and continuing fascination and love of visual storytelling in all its many complicated and liberating facets. They want to tell stories. They want to be engaged. They want to compel. They want to photograph and film and make audio. The community must continue to harness and believe in these often extraordinary people, their optimism, and their energy.

Any thoughts on the upcoming Activist Awards?

I am excited. Working with the fellow judges, all of whom I greatly admire, is an honor. And I think we all will agree that one of the great pleasures in life is to engage image and story and idea. I am a self admitted addict to the always combustible impact of a great picture story and am thrilled to participate. See you in March.

Take a look at this video from the Daily Beast of James Wellford talking about the work of Tim Hetherington:



Last week, we launched the Your Photo for Social Change mission with EyeEm. Today, EyeEm posted some of the best submissions on their blog. Take a look.

From the EyeEm blog:

After the first week there have been tons of great photos submitted covering a wide breadth of issues, including poverty, homelessness, child trafficking, environmental degradation, animal rights, migrant workers, civil rights and LGBT rights. To provide some inspiration, here are some great shots that have already been submitted.

We hope you will participate!

Read more about the mission and how you can participate here.



Comments Off

On March 8, 2014, PhotoPhilanthropy will host the 5th annual Activist Awards, honoring the past year’s outstanding work done by photographers in collaboration with nonprofit organizations worldwide. We have an amazing panel of judges for this year’s awards and in the coming weeks we will be posting a short Q&A with each of them.

First up is the great Richard Koci Hernandez.

Photo by @koci on Instagram

You’ll be taking part in a PhotoPhilanthropy workshop called Mobile Photography and Storytelling. What are some of the ways mobile photography is changing news photography and photography in general?

First, let me speak personally.

This tool has changed my entire process.

First, it has accelerated my output. Not only is it the camera in my hand, but it’s the printing press in my pocket and more importantly, with the rise of social networks like Instagram, it’s become my satellite dish in order to instantly transmit, globally. I can share my vision at the touch of a button and receive instant feedback and sometimes, intelligent conversation about the photographic process. It’s a thrilling time for photographers.

Second, the “connected” camera has expanded my photographic inspiration and motivation. I can see other photographers creating inspiring imagery all over the globe, even while I wait for the bus. I’ve never been more inspired in my career.

Finally, the creative possibilities and potential with mobile photography are especially exciting. I’ll admit that my work stays relatively close to a classic analog street photography aesthetic, but it’s allowed me to experiment with other forms of photography that were never on my creative horizon. I haven’t shared a lot of this work publicly, but I’m playing around like never before.

I suspect that my personal view is shared by many other photographers and could also be interpreted as a general view of how mobile photography has changed the profession.

I think there is a valid argument that it hasn’t changed the art of the final product, being the actual photograph, which still represents beautiful composition, light, moment and color. But, on the other hand for many of the reasons I explained above it has changed the process in which we capture, share and communicate with photography.

Photo by @koci on Instagram

The movement both here in the US in Chicago and abroad in the UK of media organizations firing entire photojournalist staffs is troubling and could be argued that it’s related to the democratization and proliferation of mobile camera devices.

Also there is a debate that mobile apps change the reality of a news situation and the world of journalism is all about transparency, therefore we should not use them in news situations.

If there is a side to stand on in this debate I’m certainly on the side of less filtration for photojournalism. That said, I’m certainly not against all filtration. There is a place for it when used sparingly and with great intent. Filters, like many things in photography are judged in degrees of use. In photojournalism I believe there should be as little filtration as possible. A photojournalist should be as keenly aware of the power of a filter to change reality as they are with the power of a lens to change the reality of a scene. In this debate, I like to think of myself as a cautious optimist when it comes to filters in relation to photojournalism. I’m cautious in that I think that photojournalists should use filters with caution and understand their power to manipulate reality and truth. But I’m also an optimist in that I love new technology and the potential it has to democratize and aid in truth telling.

It is important for me to point out that while I have been a photojournalist for 20 years, the last 12 months of my Instagram feed have certainly been a lesson in deep filtering. In the days of the darkroom, we’d label my Instagram techniques as ‘heavy handed’ and I would agree in most cases too heavy for photojournalism.

Photo by @koci on Instagram

I think it’s going to be a tough road ahead for photojournalism. With all of the advancements in photographic technology, I don’t believe we’ve even begun to see the ‘digital revolution.’ Going forward, photojournalists need to do their best to keep the connection to truth as pure as possible. I do understand that even that statement is open to debate. Here we go!

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.” — Ansel Adams

“Apps change the reality of the situation” — yes, but — so does the choice of my DSLR lens, white balance settings and what I choose not to photograph. The only thing that truly changes the reality of a situation is the photographer’s intent to deceive. As a photojournalist I’ve photographed street corner protests of 10 people. If I wanted, I could easily photograph the event in a way that makes it look like hundreds were in attendance. With the right lens, angle and caption, and my intent, I have more power than any app to change reality.

The debate is pointed in the wrong direction. Instead of focusing on the fact that the emperor is wearing no clothes, we should be focused on the emperor’s intent to come out onto the balcony naked. Why would he or she do something like that?

In my opinion it’s not about whether we use apps like Hipstamatic for news events, it’s how we train and inform our photojournalists on how to use and apply these techniques to mobile images and how transparent we are in the process.

In a nutshell, a photojournalist’s guiding principle should be the pursuit of truth. Photographic truth doesn’t reside in the camera, or in an app, but in the heart and mind of the image-maker. Let’s not point fingers at apps and technology. It’s not Photoshop or Hipstamatic that create photographic lies, but the photographer.

You have a huge following on Instagram. A lot of what you do on Instagram reminds me of some of the great street photographers (Robert Frank, William Klein, Cartier-Bresson, etc). And you pair your photos with great quotes. Can you say a few words about your approach to mobile photography and how you draw on the past to create new work?

I would describe my approach for making street images as purposefully aimless. My photographs are a simple by-product of my normal life. I don’t go out of my way to make images. Unless I spot a man in a fedora, then I’ll go out of my way. Don’t ask me why I love to take pictures of hats, I’m working that out with my therapist at the moment. [Insert chuckle here.]

Men in hats. Photos by @koci on Instagram.

My images are artifacts of my daily life. For me the hunt is always on. Picking my daughter up from school, a trip to the market or on my way to a meeting, it’s open season.

I’m a very reactionary image-maker. A concept taken from many of the greats you mentioned above. When my head and heart scream shoot, I shoot. Photography, for me, is about honoring the impulse to make an image, no matter what.

The “no matter what” wasn’t always an easy thing to act upon. Years ago, my head and heart would scream shoot, but another voice in me would yell back: “The light is bad. The composition isn’t perfect. The subject is too far away. What a silly picture, why would you make a photo of that?” It’s taken years, but I’ve honed my skill to shoot on impulse. This means having a camera in hand and ready at all times. For me, there is no better tool than my mobile phone.

Shoot. YES. YES. YES. Shoot. Shoot. YES.

I’m always in search for the perfect black and white app or app-combo in order to achieve the look for my images. I guess you could call me a romantic chap with high nostalgic tendencies.

Therefore, I’m a fan of having my black and white street images look as if they were stuffed in an old shoe-box for the last 30 years. For me, that means finding the right borders, tones and virtual scratches for my images. That takes time. I certainly devote a fair amount of time to the darkroom in my palm, but nothing like the time spent in a real one, waiting for my fiber prints to dry.

You’re a Google Glass Explorer. What are your thoughts on the technology so far?

First, I think the device has gotten a bad rap and certainly a significant amount of bad press, creating terms like Glasshole. This bad press is mostly due to ignorance of the actual device and technology. Lots of the commentary revolving around the device are not based in reality and are usually written by folks who have not worn the device at all, or for any significant amount of time. This just leads to bad commentary.

Photo by @koci_glass on Instagram

With all transparency I am a bit of a neophile (n. person who loves novelty, one who likes trends; person who accepts the future enthusiastically and enjoys changes and evolution.)

Even with that said, I’m pretty hard-pressed not to be blown away by a capture device that is so close to my eye. It’s actually pretty awesome that I can program it to shoot a picture when I blink. AMAZING!

Overall, it’s certainly a technology in its infancy but I have to say one of the biggest surprises was the quality. The images are fairly stunning as well as the video considering that the photo sensor has less megapixels than an iPhone. I think it has tons of potential and I’m certainly a believer in the notion that the next wave of technology will be aware of eyeballs whether it’s glasses or watches or even implants, :-)

Who are some of your favorite photographers working in areas of social change?

Ironically enough, the work of Marcus Bleasdale, especially his work for the National Geographic, The Price of Precious and how the minerals in our electronic devices have bankrolled unspeakable violence in the Congo.

Also It’s hard not to mention the work of the godfather of social photography, Sebastião Salgado.

You teach at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. What trends are you seeing among your students?

They are just crazy innovative thinkers and to use the cliché, extremely outside of the box thinkers. It’s so refreshing that they don’t carry legacy mentality into their futures. They see the visual world with fresh eyes and while being mature adults have a very inspiring youthful, beginners outlook. They’re also not afraid of new technology and are certainly more willing than most to use the best available and most appropriate tool without having to debate its merits. I love that in them!

Any thoughts on the upcoming Activist Awards?

Excited! I’m continually in awe by the work that comes out of the awards as it’s often humbling, inspiring, enlightening and certainly informative. I’m a believer that there is an equal amount of photographic “signal” amongst the photographic “noise” and I find that these awards often surface some of the strongest signals out there.

Richard Koci Hernandez will be taking part in the PhotoPhilanthropy workshop, Mobile Photography & Storytelling on March 7 and will be a judge at the Activist Awards on March 8.

Take a look at Koci in action on the streets of San Francisco: