How three very different photographers use their cameras to make a difference
-- and how you can do so, too.
Sometimes the call to action comes over the phone. For Shannon Eckstein, a Canadian photographer who's currently based in Toronto, the voice on the phone was a friend asking her to volunteer to shoot portraits at a gala benefit for a nonprofit organization.
Eckstein resisted, but the friend pressed her. She dutifully photographed at the benefit for Operation Rainbow Canada, whose medical teams provide free surgery and health care for children in developing countries born with cleft lips and palates.
She wasn't thinking of a long-term relationship. But as Eckstein learned about the group and ran into its founder, Dr. Kimit Rai, a local plastic surgeon, repeatedly at various events, she started thinking about her own work. Her business, photographing children and producing high-quality black-and-white prints, was successful and rewarding, but she wanted to go beyond that. "I just felt like I needed to do more with [photography]," she says.
So Eckstein approached ORC with a proposition: She would go on one of their missions to photograph and use the images to publicize their work. "They hadn't received a lot of media attention, and I just knew I could handle the job," says Eckstein. "It involved children, in a third-world country in which I had a lot of experience living and traveling. And it was a story that I thought hadn't been told, and needed to be told, but in a gentle way."
The organization agreed. To pay her way, Eckstein raised money through a benefit party of her own. Soon she was off on the multiweek trip to a border town in northern India with 24 other members of Operation Rainbow. Getting there took three days.
Families from all over the region brought their children, and Eckstein came prepared. She had a ready smile, lots of time, and child-friendly goodies like stickers and bubble-blowing materials. Unlike the nurses, who might only see the kids in pre-op or post-op areas, she could follow the kids and their families through the whole process, getting to know them. Eventually the nurses realized they could call for their photographer to help settle a nervous child.
The trip, she says, "exceeded every expectation I had. The ORC team was incredible to work with. Every day they humbled me because of their incredible spirit, sense of team, and dedication to what they were doing."
Two of Eckstein's prints were accepted into an Australian photo competition, Women's Eye on Peace, and she's hoping to do similar work for other organizations. "I just feel like I need to do something a little more socially conscious," she says. "I don't have a lot of money and I don't know what else to do. Photography is the only thing I have to offer."