How three very different photographers use their cameras to make a difference
-- and how you can do so, too.
Some photographers have the vision to see a problem in society or the environment and focus on it, creating a body of work that brings major reform. But most photographers looking to make a difference in the world will find there's already a nonprofit group, whether a charity or nongovernmental organization (NGO), in their area of interest. Working with an existing nonprofit may be the best way to go.
Many groups raise money through print auctions and sales, or through auctions of services such as family portraits. Donating your photographs this way translates directly into cash for charities.
Another way to help: Volunteer as a photographer. From small neighborhood groups to big international ones, most nonprofits need photos for everything from newsletters to advertising to thank-you gifts. Not every project requires a huge commitment.
Amnon Gutman, a freelance photojournalist based in Israel, takes time off from work to shoot in places like Mozambique and Uganda for nonprofits. For instance, the Israeli Medical Association sent him to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, to document work being done there by Israeli doctors. In Kampala, an American student volunteer at one of the main hospitals told him about a team of social workers who go to the slums to track former hospital patients who need follow-up care. He spent two weeks with the team, photographing daily life in the slums in order to call attention to the plight of Uganda's poor, many of whom are suffering from AIDS and tuberculosis.
"My main purpose was to be able to make things happen with my pictures," Gutman says, "meaning that even if one person donated money to the organization and by that saved one life, then it was worth it."
How to connect? It can be as easy as a phone call. That's how James Hall, a photographer from Fairfax, CA, began to set up what turned into a two-and-a-half-month trip working for a variety of NGOs in Cambodia several years ago. "It totally launched my career," says Hall.
His website, 88zero.com, links to an article he wrote for Transitions Abroad on how to volunteer as a photographer for an NGO overseas. He recommends starting your search for an organization with a visit to interaction.org, the website of InterAction, the American Counsel for Voluntary International Action.
But if it can be easy to connect, there are some practical considerations to look into first.
One is money. Are you going to donate your time, or do you expect financial help? It might seem a no-brainer if you're looking to volunteer for free, but some photographers argue that your photos will get more attention in the organization and be put to better use if it costs the nonprofit something to get them.
If you'd like the group to cover expenses, you'll need to produce an accurate estimate of just what those expenses will be. If you cover everything, your expenses probably will be tax-deductible, but you won't be able to take a deduction for your time and services.
Working with a nonprofit can be incredibly rewarding. After all, how often do you get a chance to do something you love and leave the world a little bit better place at the same time? In the end, you might change not just the world but yourself.