Show Your Stripes: The Beauty of Imperfection

During my college days, instead of going out to bars and clubs, I mostly went to a lot of themed house parties. There was the very un-politically correct "White Trash Party." The juvenile "Awkward Middle School Dance Party." And, one of my favorites, the scandalous "Wear Anything But Clothes Party."

One girl showed up wearing nothing but her own skin. A bit more modest, I showed up in a paper bag shirt and plastic bag skirt. When I talked to the nudist, I told her I was shy about showing off my legs because my veins were so visible.

She told me: "Oh, but that's so cool! It's like you're an animal! It's your special pattern. Like a leopard. Or a zebra. Grrr!" Clearly, she was drunk. And a little crazy.

Weird as her comment was, it boosted my confidence, at least for the night. So I hiked up my plastic bag skirt a little higher, proud to show my stripes.

As a throwback to my college daze, this post is dedicated to our bodily imperfections. In particular, it's an homage to stretch marks. 

Gearing up for bikini season, Refinery29 recently published a slideshow, "5 Images That Will Make You Embrace Your Stretch Marks." The photos, originally shot by Chloe Newman for Polyester Zine, celebrate glittery stretch marks on bedazzled boobs, butts and hips. While the flaws are stylized and glamorized, they're not retouched or softened. "It's refreshing and reassuring when you see something a bit more real," Newman said.

Photo by Chloe Newman.

Photo by Chloe Newman.

Photo by Chloe Newman.

Photo by Chloe Newman.

The #LoveYourLines account on Instagram shows black-and-white photos of women revealing their stretch marks and cellulite with empathy and acceptance. The images are accompanied by uplifting captions, that embrace the fullness of the female bodyraw, real and, quite literally, in the flesh. The account is curated by wives, mothers and photographers Alex Elle and Erika Layne, who encourage women around the world to submit their own images and stories.

Photo by oh so Van via Love Your Lines.

Photo by oh so Van via Love Your Lines.

This is my eighth blog post in a series for #The100DayProject, a project by Elle Luna. I'm naming it the #100Days ofBenevolent: an attempt to kickstart my daily blogging habit, which has been idle for years.

The Pitch: 1 Foto 1 Family

This post is part of "The Pitch" series, which follows up with socially conscious creatives who submitted to the inaugural Benevolent Media Pitch Night competition in November 2012. At the event, held in Washington, D.C., 13 different projects and organizations presented 3-minute proposals on how to use storytelling and design for social good, for a chance to win funding to make their ideas a reality. (Read about all the winners and finalists here.) As we gear up to host another Pitch Night during our festival in late-September, we want to know: Where are they now? What's the status of their project? What lessons have they learned? Do they have any requests for collaboration?  Stay tuned!

Meet Arianne Neigh, the creator, team leader and "wandering adventurer" behind 1 Foto 1 Family, a photo documentary project that aims to capture cultural connections through family. Arianne is privileged to have walked, paddled, skipped and surfed through more than 40 countries across the globe. Having not much more than her trusty headlamp and 10-year-old flip-flops, she wanted to find a simple gift for her gracious hosts while traveling. Arianne started giving family portraits as a logical token of her appreciation. This is where 1 Foto 1 Family was born.  Although Arianne is far from a professional photographer, she does have a remarkable lack of filter and mystery helping her to become friends with anyone. These anti-superhero powers are critical for weaving stories based on her experiences, creating bonds between unexpected people in far-flung places, and eating copious amounts of street food. Arianne hopes that 1 Foto 1 Family will allow her to share her life enhancing experiences and create understanding between cultures by telling the story of our families. To learn more about 1 Foto 1 Family, follow their work on Facebook.

Arianne Neigh presents The Global Archive Project" at Benevolent Media Pitch Night 2012. Photo by Ben Droz.

What is your project you pitched and why did you start it? Are you still working on your project and if so, what have you been doing to date?

I pitched “The Global Archive Project” last November, which was a project to capture family stories and portraits with a goal of showing that, although we look very different, the stories of our families can create understanding between cultures. This was really an idea that had been in the back of my mind for several years, but I hadn’t done anything more formal than chatting with a few friends about it. I decided that the Benevolent Media Pitch Night was a great opportunity to stop talking and to take a chance to do something.

I had such amazing support from our partners at Earthship Pitaya Festival during the preparation for Pitch Night that I decided to move forward. My boyfriend, Jake Lescher, joined the project, we changed the name to 1 Foto 1 Family, got my sister involved as a graphic designer, and even launched a Kickstarter campaign. Although we weren’t successful with Kickstarter (we learned a ton about what to do and not do,) our family and our friends at Earthship Pitaya Festival were so supportive that we decided to alter the design, simplify the project, and take the leap of faith to begin.

In February, we launched the project in El Carizal, Nicaragua where we volunteered at the festival, photographed families, and connected with new and old friends. We took portraits of families with special needs children, as well as helped put on the festival, which attracted more than 3,000 people and helped raise thousands of dollars for programs in the community. It was a rewarding experience for the two of us and helped us beta test the feasibility of our project.

Although I know this will likely be a lifelong endeavor, I hope that I can continue to collect stories about families. I have just returned from a trip to Southern Africa, and I am compiling that work and finishing some documentation from Nicaragua.  These will become part of our Twitter and Facebook pages, where we will begin to share the projects stories.

Do you have any requests for collaboration or calls to action? If so, what?

Right now we are looking for our next opportunity.  Perhaps, we will seek something closer to home and work with underserved parts of D.C. Hopefully, we can identify a partner who is already working in the target community. We have found this to be critical to the success of our projects by ensuring that we are sensitive to our hosts and providing them with something that will make them happy.  We want to make sure we are operating through exchange and not giving or taking on either end. At its heart, 1 Foto 1 Family is a collaboration. I would really love to have another member who is passionate about other cultures, has a fabulous eye for portrait photography, and wants to give back to others.

What have you learned from your work thus far?

Every time I work abroad, I remember to be patient, flexible and gracious. I learn to take advantage of opportunities but never of people. I learn to love a little more and to treasure the things that make me, and everyone around me, unique. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be perfect. I’ve learned to just go for it!

How has your perception of family changed from undertaking this work?

I am continually amazed and surprised by the strength of families, even in times of difficulty or maybe in the face of difficulty. Families are synergistic; the whole amounts to more than the parts. By nurturing the whole, we build strength together. I don’t think I have been able to capture that effectively yet, but I know it is there.

The South Bronx on Fire: Photography Exhibit Chronicles a Borough on the Rebound


In September 2012, six photographers from the South Bronx, New York will come together in a show of photographic unity, in honor of the borough that raised them. The Seis Del Sur exhibition, comprised of images by noted photographers Joe Conzo, David Gonzalez, Ricky FloresAngel Franco, Edwin Pagan and Francisco Molina Reyes II, chronicles a time in the lives of the community’s residents when economic, political and social extremes helped to undermine the borough’s overall quality of life.

“Documenting the Bronx was a natural extension of photographing our family, friends and acquaintances. It was a direct outgrowth of what anyone would do in their own community,” says photographer and Seis Del Sur member Ricky Flores. “The difference was the time and place.”

For those on the outside looking in, many have heard and seen the stories of how the Bronx burned in the late '70s and early '80s. Many factors have been recognized for the deterioration of the Bronx during this period, such as the reduction of real-estate pricing and rent control laws that contributed to arson-related destruction of apartment housing. This, in turn, created a visual landscape of devastation within the neighborhood.

As Flores explains, “Later on, it became a realization that what was taking place was not normal and then the questions began for me. What was going on? Why was our community being systematically destroyed? Who was responsible for this happening?”


In reality, what emerged from the ashes during this period was a community united in culture and strong family ideals, something that the photo exhibition focuses on but the mainstream media usually ignores.

“It’s always one sided!” contributing photographer Joe Conzo says. “Yes, it was ‘bad’ and ‘the ghetto’ was full of addicts and crime, but there were thriving families there that made do with what they had. A lot of great people came out of the Bronx!”

Flores shares Conzo’s views on how the events in the Bronx have been interpreted. “Misconceptions ranged from who we were as Puerto Ricans and who was actually burning down and abandoning the community. They originally didn’t understand the birth of hip-hop and rap music as a direct reaction to the systematic attacks on our community, or the rise of community advocacy groups who fought back against the destruction of the Bronx.”

While other photographic records of the community have been made, such as Mel Rosenthal’s In the South Bronx of America (work that Flores and Conzo highly respect), what sets the Seis Del Sur crew apart is the direct relationship the photographers have with the neighborhood. “The principal difference with my own work and his was simply timing and that I was actually living in the community while the destruction was going on,” Flores explains. “I had access to things that were happening there on a daily basis, night and day, as a resident of the community. The same was true for each member of the Seis, all residents who were familiar with the community and culture who continue to document life in the South Bronx.”

With the show being held at the Bronx Documentary Center, the group hopes to create a dialogue with the audience about the culture and community that grew from the adversity the South Bronx experienced. “We hope to give a perspective of what it was like to live in a community that we all loved and provide our point of view of what took place while we lived and worked there,” Flores says. “We want to show not only the conditions of life there during that time, but provide a more personal perspective of insiders who lived in the community, something that has not taken place in the history of documenting the South Bronx. The work of the Seis is singular because of that very unique perspective.”

Positive Pictures: Germaine Watkins and the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild


As a photography instructor at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, Germaine Watkins explains why it’s essential to connect with his students. “It’s important, because that’s what was done with me when I was a student, and I’m trying to replicate that from my experience," he said. "It helps them out to see that other people are interested in them and their development within the arts, and as a person too.”

Since its inception in 1968, the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, an arm of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, has been serving Pittsburgh, Penn. and its surrounding communities as a non-profit, multidisciplinary arts education program available to at-risk youth. Founder Bill Strickland created the guild with the mission “to educate and inspire urban youth through the arts.”

The 62,000-square-foot training center, located in the North Shore section of the city, offers educational arts programming in ceramics, design, digital arts and photography. The guild also provides training in various vocational fields, such as gourmet food preparation and chemical, office and medical technologies. Other programs include the Denali Initiative, which educates future entrepreneurs on the development of business and financing practices, and MCG Jazz, the guild’s own record label that is the recipient of four Grammy Awards. Close to 4,000 students from the Pittsburgh Public School District are served by the organization on a yearly basis.


Sitting in on Watkins’ class, one gets the sense of the gifts he possesses when it comes to teaching. A former student of the guild and an employee for 16 years, Watkins started his professional career at Manchester as a lab technician after graduating with a degree in communications from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

“When I was graduating from college, I wanted a job that was different every day, that wasn’t a factory job or something like that," he said. "That’s what I got.  It’s something new and different every day. Sometimes it can be exciting, sometimes it can be stressful, but it’s one of those jobs that isn’t totally predictable.”

Soon he was teaching his own photography classes and, in partnership with fellow photography instructor Jolie Peters, created an in-depth series of photography workshops that challenge as well as inspire their students. This trimester they are teaching a black-and-white film photography class called "Nature’s Adventures," and another called "Hometown Advantage," a digital photography course where students take pictures of their surrounding neighborhoods. Other course subjects include "Sky's the Limit," which allows students to study the sky photographically, and "Double Fun," a film-based course that introduces students to 35mm and 2 ¼ film processes.


The Manchester Craftsman’s Guild uses various evaluation instruments to measure its social impact, the most prominent being the organization’s National Center for Arts & Technology (NCAT). Organizations and individuals interested in duplicating the guild’s success can do so through NCAT’s national replication strategy.  In terms of evaluation from the teacher’s perspective, Watkins’ approach is very straight-forward.

“On the ground level, or where I’m coming from, I measure it simply by talking to the students and finding out if they’re getting what we’re trying to teach them," he said. "Also, I talk to them on a personal level and ask them what’s going on in their lives.  So it’s more on an individual personal level within the classroom itself, but we do have our different surveys that the students fill out, and we also have our exhibitions that the students are able to submit their work to.”

In the end, it’s the enjoyment of teaching that keeps Watkins motivated and coming back for more. “Within the art world, there’s a lot of people who don’t perceive photography as an art form, and I’m like ‘No, it is an art form!’" he said. "So to have students who come here and don’t know anything about art and photography, and then come out with a better appreciation of the art form and wanting to create their own art, is very important.”

To learn more about the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, visit their website at

Congratulations to Critical Exposure for Winning PhotoPhilanthropy Award!


We're pleased to share this good news on behalf of  PhotoPhilanthropy and Critical Exposure, two community partners that participated in our "Photography for Good" panel discussion and slideshow at the 2011 Benevolent Media Festival.

Here's the announcement from PhotoPhilanthropy:

PhotoPhilanthropy is thrilled to announce the recipient of the 2011 PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Award for Community-Based Organizations (CBO): Critical Exposure for their project, "Picture Equality: Youth Empowerment Through Photography."

With the award for CBOs, PhotoPhilanthropy recognizes outstanding projects by non-profit organizations and photographers who are using photography in a community context to promote social good.

About the Winner:

Critical Exposure was founded in 2004 by a former educator and an education policy analyst in response to drastic disparities that exist between public schools and the lack of arts education for low-income youth. Their mission is to teach youth how to use the power of photography and their own voices to become effective advocates for school reform and social change. In pursuit of this mission, Critical Exposure has developed a straightforward but unique approach: give at-risk students cameras and training in photography and writing, encourage them to capture images that show the realities of their lives, and teach them how to use photographs and writing to tell their stories and to advocate for policy changes.

To date, they have provided over 1,000 at-risk youth in D.C., New Orleans, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Austin, and Albuquerque with cameras and training. They empower youth by helping them to explore their artistic and leadership potential and engaging them in the public policy-making process. At the same time, they build public and political support for reform efforts by exposing citizens and policy makers to youth-created images and narratives documenting the realities they face.

Congratulations to Critical Exposure!

Q&A with Karl Grobl: Come Along for the Ride


To ring in the new year, Karl Grobl, a self-described "humanitarian photojournalist," launched a new video journal, "Come Along for the Ride,"  to provide insights into his work as a visual storyteller for NGOs worldwide. For the past 10 years, the photographer has been documenting the relief efforts and development work of clients like World Vision, World Relief, World Emergency Relief, Freedom from Hunger, Catholic Relief Services and many others. Grobl has worked in more than 50 countries, from Afghanistan to Vietnam, covering issues like HIV/AIDS, prostitution, micro-finance and education. His images are used to help NGOs tell the story of what they do through annual reports, websites and other multimedia communications.

He also recently started leading photography workshops to provide professional and amateur photographers with a platform from which to launch their own photojournalistic careers.

I chatted with him on Skype while he was on location in Bangkok to learn more about his latest project.

Why did you start the "Come Along for the Ride" series?

Ten years ago, there weren't a whole lot of people doing "photography for nonprofits;" now it's gotten to be kind of a buzzword.

It's a dream job for most photographers because just about everybody wishes they could travel around shooting picture stories in interesting locations and get paid for doing that. So, I started this blog series and I'm doing a workshop along with my photo tours, where I teach people how to tell picture stories with the intent being that maybe they'll do something for a nonprofit and get into the business themselves.

I can't do this forever, so why don't I train other people how to do it?

What does it mean to be a "humanitarian photojournalist"?

Humanitarian photojournalism is very strictly making photographs for humanitarian aid organizations, helping them explain to the world what it is that they do, with the funds they get, and the programs they implement around the world.  There's a much different look to the work of a humanitarian photographer as opposed to someone who makes pretty pictures. One has a very real, journalistic, non-contrived photograph that's "newsy" or event-related, versus, an image of a couple of baby lambs in the hands of beautiful children up against the background of the Andes mountains. Not to say that that's a bad thing.  There are photographers who make beautiful photographs for NGOs, but my niche is to do it in a journalistic way.

The tendency is for these humanitarian aid organizations to do a lot of blogging and social media and what they want is newsy content about what's happening in Sri Lanka today, or what is Asia Foundation doing to reintegrate the Tamils after the civil war. There's a constant need, much like a news organization, for content that tells a story from yesterday and the day before.

How did you get into this line of work?

I was working in medical sales for Johnson & Johnson orthopedics. I loved the job, but I also loved my vacation. I would spend two weeks going to some developing country to photograph indigenous cultures.

This one time, while working at a trade show, I came across this booth and there was a tiny 6-foot draped table, trying to get orthopedic surgeons to volunteer their time in the developing world to teach and do surgery and go on medical missions. I thought, wow, they don't have much in the way of photographs to attract people to the booth to get them excited about places where they might go volunteer.

When I went on these two-week forays into the developing world for my own personal photography projects, I noticed a huge discrepancy in the quality of healthcare. I thought, is there anything I can do to use my skills as a photographer to help these people? Maybe I can start with taking pictures that speak to a physician in the U.S. who says they really want to go help.

I needed to find a way to make enough money to support myself but also derive satisfaction from being a small agent of change for better in places that I visit.

What is unique about photography that makes it an effective tool for social change?

It allows people to see the similarities between themselves and someone half a world away. A photo is a thing that someone sees first, and based on whether the photo moves them, they dig deeper into the story. And it doesn't usually have to do with shock value, like bloated babies' stomachs with flies on their eyes, but rather a photo that connects to someone, so that they say, hey, that could be my child, or that could be me. It's a personal connection.

How do you measure the social impact of your work?

Often times it's difficult to measure the impact. I get a fair amount of examples from my clients who say they showed a series of photos to high-level donors at this one dinner and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Or I'll get an email and someone will tell me that they see my photo and it moved them so much that they're now donating to some organization. I get just enough of a trickle of emails, comments and thank you's that I get the sense it's working. The communications departments at these NGOs that I work for wouldn't be hiring me if those photos didn't ultimately result in positive cash flow for them.


Give us an example of one of the most memorable stories that you have documented - what do you want people to take away from it?

I covered the tsunami in Indonesia for Catholic Relief Services. I flew over to Banda Aceh; it was completely devastated. There were ruins everywhere, bodies everywhere. It was a complete mess. Everyone back home was emailing me, worried about me being overcome by this tragedy, and what I really got out of it was that it was the most motivational and uplifting experience I've ever had. Yes, the tsunami devastated many countries in a huge way, but what I saw was the sheer weight of the humanitarian response. The entire community came to the aid of these people and did whatever it took to make sure that whoever was surviving had something to eat and a place to stay.

I was on the beach, rambling around the disaster zone. There was a guy who was standing on the concrete foundation of what used to be his house. He had lost his entire family. He was swept into the forest and clung to the top of a palm tree until the water receded. He had absolutely nothing left in his entire life.

He sees that I'm sweating like crazy. He has three coconuts to his name and he picks them up, chops one open, gives it to me, chops another one open, and gives it to my translator. Here's a guy who has nothing left in the world  and he's worried about me being thirsty.

Another example: When I was working for World Vision in Cambodia, I was shooting a woman with HIV/AIDS, lying in her hut. It was 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity. She has her skeletal hand across her baby, and I'm trying to make these photos but I'm having a hard time because it's really dark. She says something in Khmer to her relatives, and the next thing I know, they start removing the door from the house so that enough light can come in to make the photo. She was really concerned that I create a good picture of her situation because she wanted everyone else to understand what she's going through. Three days after that, I understand that she expired.

What career advice do you have for aspiring benevolent media creators?

There are a hundred thousand people that would love to have my job but there are few that can say I'm willing to pay the price to get there. You create that by doing photography and learning journalism and working for a newspaper. You put together a business plan that says in order to make a living doing this, I have to charge this much, convince them that their investment in me is worthwhile, and showing a portfolio of images that demonstrate to the NGO that this is what I can do for you.

The photography aspect of it is one thing, but more important is understanding customer needs, selling yourself, and delivering a product to the customer.

ComeAlongFullVersion from Karl Grobl on Vimeo.

Photography Lets Viewers "See Potential" of Healthy Communities in Chicago


About a year ago, photographer Emily Schiffer won a grant from the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund grant program to do a documentary project about emergencies not covered by mainstream media.

Schiffer, who studied fine art, photography and African-American studies at the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to document public health problems related to the lack of access to healthy affordable food. It's a problem that many cities face, but she chose to focus on Chicago, a city that has experienced a steadily growing urban agriculture movement over the past decade but still faces vast social and economic discrepancies in the availability of healthy food.

She spent a month last summer taking photographs in Chicago's South Side neighborhood. Her original plan was to publish the images in traditional media, like magazines and gallery shows, as well as in non-traditional venues, like hospitals, where she could print images on hospital curtains, cafeteria trays, tables or blood pressure cuffs, to target the medical community.

But that all changed, about two weeks into the project, when she met Orrin Williams, the executive director of the Center for Urban Transformation, a nonprofit based on the South Side that is dedicated to developing sustainable communities and the "green economy." Its programs involve urban agriculture, while also taking into consideration things like job security, housing, medical care, artistic and personal expression, and happiness. With Williams at the helm, the Center is looking to gain support for its business plans and proposals to transform vacant, unused spaces into productive community hubs, like grocery stores or urban gardens.

"As soon as I heard about [Williams'] redevelopment plans, my desire to have a use for my images started taking a different form," Schiffer said.

Now, the project has grown into a public-art-meets-advocacy campaign, where large-scale photographs (shot by Schiffer and other prominent Chicago area photographers) will be installed at different sites proposed for redevelopment to encourage people to visualize what the community could become,  hence the name of the project, "See Potential."

"I'm not just documenting a problem; there's actually a lot of potential for solutions that can be included in the project," Schiffer said.


The project is organized into three phases, as described on the project's Kickstarter fundraising page:

  1. Work with community leaders to locate blighted buildings, abandoned factories, and unoccupied storefronts that could be transformed into healthy corner stores, urban gardens, year-round indoor growing sites, and community centers
  2. Transform urban blight into photographic artworks that enable community members to imagine shared community space
  3. Distribute information about healthy living and gather community support through a dynamic text messaging campaign

For now, Schiffer is trying to raise $10,000 to compensate participating photographers and designers, print artwork on weather-proof banners and install them at various sites, and distribute information about the project. Schiffer estimates she'll need two to three times that amount to meet the full scope of the project, though she says she'll scale the project to however much she's able to raise.

The ultimate goal is to "Mobilize Community," a piece that wasn't entirely fleshed out in the original project proposal but now is a critical component of its success:

Each photographic installation will include a text panel encouraging onlookers to send a text message in support of that specific site transformation.  Using a custom-designed SMS text messaging infrastructure and GPS technology, we will collect all messages and record the location from which each text was sent.  By pinpointing the different locations and by tracking the amount of public support at each site, we will be able to present a series of interactive, web-based maps to potential funders, policy makers, and city officials.

She got the idea for creating a GPS-enabled, crowd-sourced online petition from Voice of Kibera, a citizen reporting project that uses the Ushahidi platform to aggregate and map reports in Kibera, a slum of Nairobi, Kenya. Schiffer said the See Potential map will be part of  a larger Internet mapping project by Judith Helfand, in collaboration with Digital Democracy, that aims to show every single business, empty lot, sports facility and other "neighborhood resource" on the South Side.


I chatted with Schiffer to see what motivated her to use photography to improve public health in Chicago, and what requests she has for collaboration. Heads up, Michelle Obama and Oprah - she needs your help to take this to the next level!

Why were you interested in documenting urban agriculture and food-related issues?

Food and organic farming have always been important to me. I grew up working on an organic farm after school in Massachusetts. It had animals, big gardens and big vegetable fields. It made me feel connected to food and aware of how political the food system is. It also made me aware of my own power as a child, that I was capable of having an impact. If I didn't feed the animals, they would be hungry. If I didn't mush the potato bugs that grow on the potato plants, they wouldn't be harvested. When I was 12 years old, I delivered a baby sheep. It was a pretty beautiful responsibility that I took on. I was part of something that was larger. There's something very important about being able to provide for yourself in the sense of providing your own food.

What motivated you to create a social impact campaign around the photography installations?

The segregation in Chicago really startled me. I didn't feel like I could talk about food security and health without talking about segregation and the link to the loss of economic investment in black neighborhoods due to redlining and other real estate practices.

It's very clear that publishing an image in a magazine or having a gallery show or having a book isn't actually going to change anything. It's not enough for me to raise awareness for people who are going to pay attention for just a few minutes and walk way. I've always been interested in making new points of connections to unite people and find practical ways to use pictures to create some sort of tangible impact, something measurable, practical. I'm always jealous of people who do pottery, for example, because their art has some sort of practical use.

What are you trying to accomplish with the photos?

We're using similar tactics to advertising. We want these pictures to catch people's eye because they're cool. People will want to look at them because they're high quality art. The idea is to showcase the work of great photographers who have done substantive work on the South Side and have positive images that need to be featured and celebrated.

Why do you use black and white photographs, as opposed to color photographs?

There's something really great that happens when you don't have color in images. You notice more details. They get separated from reality a little bit, which I find is a great way to draw people's attention into the image and make them step back and consider it because it looks a little bit less familiar than they're used to.

The photographers, with the exception of Andre Lambertson, all shoot in black and white, coincidentally. We're going to, if possible, convert any color photos to black-and-white for a consistent aesthetic.

How do you build trust with your subjects?

I'm not somebody who can stick my camera in somebody's face and feel entitled to photograph them. I'll never feel comfortable making someone else uncomfortable. It takes a lot of sitting through awkwardness and talking to people and just getting to know each other. There are a lot of people who never trusted me and I didn't photograph them. I was very upfront about why I was there, what I was doing and what the pictures were going to be used for. A lot of people were curious about me. It was clear to most people that I wasn't from there; I think that was a huge advantage.

What stage of the project are you in now?

After we get the initial funding from Kickstarter, the Center for Urban Transformation is going to secure permission from owners of abandoned buildings and vacant lots to install the photographs on them. It's not going to be guerrilla style; if we're investing that much money in this, we're going to keep it legal.

We're going to start installing the art in a concentrated area, repeated on blighted buildings and vacant lots within a downtown strip. It's the reptition that makes it effective. We want to have it on a very big scale so we can really make our point. We want this to overwhelm residents.

The idea is that on each site, there will be text that asks people to show their support for the development plans at that site by sending a text message that will be added to a petition. Using GPS technology, we'll be able to pinpoint the location of where that text was sent from. Orrin is very interested in having the ability to text back and have a conversation about what people want.

What are your next steps?

We want to install the artwork by June, and then have data to show potential funders and politicians by the end of the summer. Between now and June, we need to get permission to print images and install them. We'll throw a block party in collaboration with different organizations and artists and musicians so we can tell the community why this is really important. It's really important that it doesn't just stop at an installation; then it would just be public art and it would still be really cool and help people "see potential," but there needs to be community follow-through for this to happen.

What are your outreach plans?

We're going to have a website that will have up-to-date information about this project and anything pertaining to urban agriculture and community development. There are tons of nonprofits who work in these areas; we need to make it exciting for them and motivate them to stay involved. Orrin will be the leader of all that. We're counting on their grassroots enthusiasm in order to make this spread.

Since there is such a strong online component to this project, how will you engage people who do not have access to the Internet?

We're going to have pamphlets and there will be a telephone number that you can call to get more information, so if you're not tech-savvy, you can do it human-to-human. We'll go door-to-door, to churches, to community organizations. Orrin already has those relationships with the community. It wouldn't be possible if I was trying to do this myself. I don't have that trust and years of building relationships.

What are your metrics of success?

One, to actually have people getting excited and sending text messages. Two, convincing potential developers and politicians and policy makers that these entities are important, and getting their political support behind Orrin's business plans. Three, people actually getting together to open businesses, or having community members step forward and say they're willing to start a community center, or having a corner store willing to have healthy food sold at an affordable rate.

What do you need help with?

We need people to get excited. We need help passing out fliers and promoting this, cleaning up after the block parties, calling different organizations and individuals to come out. We could use more contacts in mainstream media. We want to see articles about this project in Chicago newspapers and national radio. We're trying to reach Michelle Obama and Oprah. The bigger this gets, the better.

What have you learned?

It's very obvious that it's not comfortable for a lot of people to think about the situation on the South Side. It's not comfortable to think about poverty and segregation in America. But it shouldn't only be people who live on the South Side who care. It should be everybody because it's exciting and it's real.

I'm an artistic facilitator. I'm not the leader of this; I'm just making it happen.

Photography for Good: PhotoPhilanthropy, Nuru Project, Critical Exposure


Highlights from the 2011 Benevolent Media Festival: On Sunday, November 6, Benevolent Media hosted a slideshow and panel discussion with three nonprofit leaders working to inspire social change through photography.

Ernst Fischer believed that “art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.”

The panelists of the Benevolent Media Festival's Photography for Good event, organized by volunteer Aaron Minnick, took this concept and showcased innovative ways to support both nonprofits and social change through photography. Minnick, the host and curator, adorned the walls of Gold Leaf Studios in Chinatown with some of his own photography, inspired by nature, creating a gallery-like atmosphere as a backdrop to the three presentations and panel discussion by Nancy Farese, JB Reed and Emma Scott.

In front of a packed room of about 45 people, the first two presentations centered on supporting a number of nonprofit organizations. Nancy Farese, founder and executive director of, promotes connections between photographers and nonprofit organizations. "Nonprofits always need new and fresh images to tell their story," she said. Her organization helps to disseminate and promote photographers' work, which helps to raise awareness about the targeted issue or nonprofit. The website serves as a meeting place where photographers and organizations can come together over projects concerning issues like the arts, human and animal rights, the environment and sustainability. The organization also hosts the annual PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Award, which identifies outstanding work done by photographers in collaboration with nonprofit organizations worldwide and awards prizes ranging from $2,000-$15,000. This year, PhotoPhilanthropy will be honoring professional, amateur, and student photographers and community-based organizations. This year's deadline for professionals and amateurs is November 20; and the student deadline is December 1. Submit your photographs here.

JB Reed, co-founder and CEO of Nuru Project, presented a social enterprise model that benefits nonprofits through the sales of photographic prints. Speaking on behalf of his fellow panelists, Reed said, "We're not just creating media, but we're creating media with a purpose." The proceeds are split three ways to cover some of Nuru Project's operational costs, to support the photographers, and to support one of five specific organizations of the buyer's choosing, including Acumen Fund and Malaria No More. The images in the collection "highlight the struggle of daily life," Reed said, emphasizing the importance of conveying "human dignity." For a moderate sum of money, everyone can own a breathtaking piece of artwork, along with the photographer's handwritten description of the photo, to "breathe life into the physical object," Reed said. Afterall, "that's what people want to connect with - it's an attempt to mimic community interaction," he added.  The prints are available for purchase through

The work of Washington, D.C.-based Critical Exposure narrows the scope of photography's benefits to youth empowerment, school reform and social justice. AmeriCorps VISTA member Emma Scott explained how Critical Exposure uses photography as a way for underprivileged youth to gain a voice by studying the medium. Donations through the website go towards obtaining venues to display the students' work, purchasing multimedia equipment, publishing photobooks and providing other operational and creative support. The images that the youth create allow their stories to be told and open up a dialogue on how to affect positive change in their communities and the world. Photographs from one project convinced the community and school officials to improve the library at The Washington Metropolitan High School. As a result of working with Critical Exposure, Scott herself has changed the way she looks through her own camera lens. "I can never take just a nice picture," she said. "I always want it to be saying something and making a change."

While they are different, each of the three approaches demonstrate a unique way to offset strife with art. The images provided by all presenters both uplift and inform. As JB Reed put it, “images move from being a photo to a bridge that takes you out of your own community, country, and personal affiliations.”

Help build that bridge by supporting each of the organizations. Start by visiting them online:

Q&A with Peter Holmes: Capturing the Invisible


Canadian photographer Peter Holmes was growing frustrated with the seeming inability of the policies he was studying at school to have an effective impact on real life politics.

"I wanted to combine my studies in international relations and political science with my passion for photography," said the 26-year-old Alberta native, who graduated from the University of British Columbia in May 2011.

Shifting from his typical commercial shoots for the music and fashion industry, Holmes launched a new project, Water Portraits, in 2009. It combines portraiture with national and municipal statistics, specifically, the amount of water consumed per person per hour, as illustrated by dumping buckets of water on people who are willing to have the deluge frozen in time. The portraits are reproduced on newsprint and offered for public display around the world. The series of 17 portraits has been shot in 12 countries, including Canada, the United States, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Serbia, Turkey and Morocco, plus individual cities, like London, Washington, D.C. , New York City, and Vancouver.

"I feel very strongly that this is a fine art piece, a portraiture that combines statistics that govern our lives in an important way," Holmes said. "But there's also the public awareness aspect."

Holmes recently contacted the United Nations about hosting an event for World Water Day. He's willing to ship his posters anywhere in the world to raise awareness about water conservation. And he's working on revamping his website to provide more links and resources about how to get involved in efforts to save water. I sat down with him last week, while he was in town for FotoWeek DC, to learn more about his vision, his creative process and his goals for the project. View the portraits online:

What is Water Portraits?

At its very basic, Water Portraits is pictures of people getting water dumped on top of them, but the amount of water is how much an average person in that country consumes in one hour. And that's residential consumption, measured by a city's water input, divided by how many people are in that city.

It's an attempt to combine statistics with portraiture. By combining the academic aspect of statistics with the personal and artistic nature of portraits, there's an attempt at creating some empathy within the viewer.

What inspired you to do this project?

It was borne more out of a frustration than an inspiration. I wanted to do a creative project around water, so I looked at multiple options, like renting a small plane and taking aerial photos, but a lot of that had already been accomplished by other more experienced photographers with bigger budgets. I wanted to see what I could contribute with my skills.

Why water?

Water is such a high-level resource. It's a simple yet complicated element, and it's so pervasive in everything from our politics to our goods and the way that they're produced. It feels worthy of further study in the field of art. There's so much academic research on it, but it's also inaccessible to regular people.

Water is so important and it's everywhere. But it's invisible in a lot of ways. Only about 68 percent is water that we actually see, like when we're brushing our teeth, flushing the toilet, showering. Most of it is invisible, flowing under our cities, leaking out through our pipes, in our washing machines, watering our lawns at night. It's important to visualize that invisible consumption. Out of sight is truly out of mind.

Did you have a specific experience or turning point that inspired this project?

I started the project in 2009. There was an event in Vancouver that got me started thinking about this. There was heavy rainfall and it turned our water slightly brown. The water was still drinkable but people were freaking out. It was on the news everyday and people were fighting over bottled water at the stores. That made me realize that, not only do we take water for granted, but if we ever did run out of water, it takes very little time for politics and people's relationships to get very heated.

What are you trying to achieve?

I want people to be astonished, because when somebody's astonished, they're interested in a way that is different from when they're being told something. They are being given a visual statistic that you might read in any old mundane news article about water consumption, but it's presented in a way that makes it real. In that way, I hope to instill a sense of wonder about why is there so much water being used? If I can get somebody to ask, "how can that be?" then I think that's all what art can do.

What is it about still photography that moves people into action?

It's really effective, especially when you're dealing with splashing water, because then you have a real sense of a frozen moment, because water doesn't usually hang around. I've seen videos of this happening; it happens so fast. The water just falls immediately and it's gone. It's only when you go back and look at photos that I've taken that you can see it step by step. I think it's really interesting to compress one hour's worth of water into a single image.

How do you compose your photographs?

The camera I use takes six frames per second on high speed, so I usually get two to three  photographs where most of the water is in the frame. Generally, I pick the ones where the water is in the frame, and I can see the subject's face.

A lot of people I shot in Paris, for example, would ask me why I don't shoot them next to the Eiffel Tower or something. It has to do with the water itself and the splashing and the portraits. The statistical aspect and the splashing is very visually complicated. And if you add another element of complication to the background, then it becomes too much. So I try to keep my backgrounds simple, if possible. It's very important that it's near or at a place where the subject goes habitually, because it's a residental portrait. It's not something that happens out of the ordinary. It happens every day, every hour. I suppose I could've taken somebody while they're sleeping, because that's the truth of the statistics. It's important that it's connected to the person's home.

What's the most surprising thing you've learned from doing this project?

My personal projects tend to revolve around things that I question myself. Partly, it's liberal guilt, to be honest. I live in Vancouver and I don't pay for my water consumption. I could leave the taps on all month long and not pay for that. And that's strange when I'm going to school and learn about all these people that struggle to walk maybe 6 or 10 miles down the road and pay for water and then bring it all the way home, and do that twice a day or something. Doing this project  makes me think about where my water is coming from and how it's being used. I still indulge in hot showers, shamefully perhaps. I am simply more conscious of where my water is going. I'm not particularly good at conserving it, personally.

I believe the more important part of conservation is political change, rather than personal change. There are political resasons for why my house doesn't have metering. It's very difficult for me to judge how much water I'm using. If you're not measuring that, in some ways, it doesn't exist. I would really love to see water use meters go up in Vancouver. But that's a polictical change that requires more people than just me to change.

Personal change is important and can lead to political change on a longer timeline, especially when you pass on those traits of low consumption and living frugally in terms of your footprint to your children. That's very effective because that becomes engrained. But when we're talking about actors that are non-voters, like corporations or larger companies, then I think the pressure and the focus ought to be on political change and not personal change.

What's the larger goal for this project?

Each person that I've dumped water on, they will certainly think about it. Feeling the weight of 20 liters of water is 50 pounds worth of water! People don't forget the crazy Canadian that dumped water on them. So, there's at least 16 people that have been influenced.

We need to rethink our water infrastructure for the 21st century. There are so many cases of leaks, like in New York City and Paris, where it's up to 50 percent. By making it visible, we can get past that "out of sight, out of mind" problem and make it a priority for the 21st century.

How do you justify dumping liters of clean water on people, when the project is all about water conservation?

The amount of water in all the photos that I took was only about 160 liters, which is about half of the 327 liters that one Canadian uses in one day.  Putting it into that perspective, it shows that it's not very much. Plus, these portraits are hourly representations, too, not daily. The numbers add up very quickly in the incomprehensible range, when you're talking about national rates, annually.

Water is a complicated resource. It's very tied to human geography and where people on the earth have chosen to make their home and increase population. There are many historical and geopolitical reasons that are difficult to untangle. There's also the question of whether water is a human right. This project helps raise some of those questions, like how can you justify using this much water in this project? That's a great question, and not one that would normally be asked.

I find that kind of art useful in picking out some of the things that we tend to gloss over, because we have our cultural veil on all the time. We live in a sort of fog, and our fog is very different from the fog of 100 or 200 years ago, and it will be different than the next 100 years. Art is very good at clearing away some of that fog and helping people to see what is going on in their time.

Festival Highlight: Photography for Good: Slideshow and Panel Discussion











The Benevolent Media Festival is a celebration of Washington, D.C.’s community of storytellers and designers dedicated to social and environmental good. Members of the community who identify as “benevolent media creators” are invited to host and organize their own lectures, workshops, performances, networking events or other activities, located at multiple venues across the city, that compel audiences to care about a cause, take action on an issue, or promote a point of view through strategic and inspiring multimedia. The events are scheduled for November 4-7, 2011.

What: Photography for Good: Slideshow and Panel Discussion

When: Sunday November 6, 2011 12:00pm-1:00pm

Where: Gold Leaf Studios 4431 I St NW, Washington, DC


Join us for what promises to be an inspiring event for up-and-coming photographers looking to bring social and environmental issues to light.  We will have slideshow presentations from two photographers who use their talent to discuss social issues: Nancy Farese and Emma Scott from Critical Exposure.

Following the slideshows, we will have a panel discussion, where the audience will have the chance to engage the photographers and learn how to get involved in benevolent photography.