The RPS (Royal Photographic Society) included an article I wrote in its Travel Group Travelogue Newsletter after I chatted to some members about my photography. While I haven’t made as many overseas trips to support non-profit organisations as I would like, I do have plans for more. It is an incredibly rewarding aspect of travel photography so I’ve reproduced the article here, with some different images.
Rewarding Travel Photography
When I retired early from a stressful career with an international energy company I decided to re-engage with my creative side, develop my photography and to travel in a way that allowed me to get to know other cultures. Although I enjoyed these photographic adventures I still felt a lack of purpose and I wondered: “why am I making these images” and more importantly, “why am I here at all”?
Life has a way of solving such dilemmas. When a friend contacted me in 2009 to talk about her charity Testigo Africa, a project to bring clean drinking water to a Masai village, I immediately said “If you need a photographer, just ask me”. She did and a month later I was in Arusha, Tanzania. Tracey wanted images to help her fundraising efforts; the area had suffered a terrible drought and water was scarce, livestock dying and food hard find. It was my first really close encounter with another culture and I was very inexperienced but the warm welcome and friendliness made it a pleasure. The warriors slaughtered and cooked a goat we had paid for and the women prepared vegetables. They sat apart to eat but we were treated as honorary men. We drank tea in mud huts, met Masai of all ages, enjoyed the Masai adumu (dance) and watched the women making beautiful beaded jewellery. Iwas able to capture it all.
Tracey started the charity to help the women who walked miles every day to collect water, leaving them little time to do anything else. I returned with Tracey in 2012 for the inauguration of the water supply and to photograph her wedding to Emanuel, a Masai who has become part of her team. They have since established a football academy and a perma-culture project in many villages. Women can now grow enough food to sell in addition to feeding their families.
One of the many rewarding aspects of my second visit was sharing prints from the first trip and noticing how much the women had blossomed with good nutrition and less stressful lives. My images were used in a variety of ways by Testigo: calendars, video presentations, exhibitions and greetings cards. It was a privilege to be involved.
My appetite whetted, I joined a volunteer trip in 2011 with a charity helping prevent human trafficking in the villages of Northern Thailand. We travelled with the director, essentially funding his journey, to isolated villages where he works with village heads to change ingrained attitudes and traditions. The hill tribes comprise immigrants from Myanmar, China and Laos who have for generations lived a frugal existence unacknowledged by Thai authorities. Life is hard and gangs offering loans to families are repaid by the children working in the fields, factories and brothels. The charity approaches the problem with re-education rather than disapproval as the practices have continued for generations. We stayed with families, often sleeping in their beds, ate with them and through our guide were able to get to know them a little. I found it a very difficult trip emotionally, but felt some satisfaction when the charity used many of my images on their website.
Later in 2012 I travelled to Cape Town with Momenta Workshops to work with non-profit organisation James House, which supports the township of Mandela Park. An introduction to photojournalism, I was put in touch with James House and had daily critiques of my plans and images from the Momenta expert. I had to develop my own resources, work independently and I learned a lot. Two hundred and fifty fully processed images, which were used in their annual report, had to be completed before I left. I also developed a personal project called the “Little Chair” involving clients and staff of James House.
Medellin in Colombia is next for me, to attend another Momenta Workshop. I hope to be paired with a non-profit supporting women, to improve my Spanish and further develop my skills. To enrich the experience I always include side trips; going on safari, attending festivals and finding additional opportunities for travel photography. I cannot recommend non-profit work highly enough. It’s humbling, rewarding, often challenging and a unique way to connect to the world through your camera lens.
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• Find a cause you feel passionate about and be clear about your motives for volunteering.
• Research non-profit organisations carefully and either contact them directly or look for a company that supports such trips (see links below).
• Understand the organisation’s expectations, most likely they will want images that reflect their success in helping people, not heart-breaking images of illness or poverty.
• Be open, genuine and positive and really connect with the people you meet!
Momenta workshops: www.momentaworkshops.com – highly recommended.
Photographers Without Borders: www.photographerswithoutborders.org – No personal experience but has been recommended to me.
Kaya Volunteer: www.kayavolunteer.com – helpful for a first time volunteer but doesn’t specialise in photography.
Project Exposure: www.projectexposure.org – I do not have personal experience of this organisation.
Photovoice: www.photovoice.org – participatory photo projects.
Villagers in Oltepesi look at photos from 2009