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Working with Non-profits

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of giving a presentation to members of the conservation, media, and photography communities as part of the WildSpeak program at The WILD Foundation‘s World Wilderness Congress in Merida, Mexico. WildSpeak was created by the International League of Conservation Photographers, four days of presentations showing conservation organizations the power of visual storytelling and persuading them to make more room in their budgets for collaboration with conservation photographers.

The presentation I was part of, “New Media and Creating the Groundswell,” focused on using new online tools to disseminate conservation messages. The other speakers introduced me to several fascinating initiatives that I want to share with the RESOLVE community — by synthesizing photography, education, technology, and social action, they highlight trends that I believe will become increasingly important as the new media landscape evolves.

ARKive_WildscreenCollect and Contextualize
is an initiative by Wildscreen to create a digital library of text, photos, and video of a huge number of the world’s animal and plant species. In some ways, the vast number of images available online do not become truly useful and powerful until they are organized and searchable in a collection like this.

LandScope_MapOrganize Geographically
Frank Biasi, director of Conservation Projects for National Geographic Maps, demonstrated two projects he’s working on that are using maps as the main navigation tool for a site. The Global Action Atlas helps connect people with social action opportunities in specific areas of the world, and is a map-based resource for the land-protection community and the public. As geotagging becomes automatic and people interact more across all geographic barriers,  information organized around a map structure will undoubtedly increase.
WildCoastMash Up Media
WildCoast is the perfect example of a non-profit taking their message far beyond the common trap of “preaching to the choir.” By signing up a sexy model and a Lucha Libre celebrity, this organization focused on saving coastal ecosystems won major victories for sea creatures. They also disseminate much of their information as comics and animated videos, something that Médecins Sans Frontières has also explored with their beautiful graphic novel, The Photographer.

Pandemic_LabsCreate Endless Collaboration
Matt Peters, the founder of Pandemic Labs, which ran social media strategy for the entire Wild9 congress, wrapped up with a wonderful presentation about the way online information tools can help keep people who connect at events like Wild9 connected and moving forward with their ideas long after the sessions end.

The Wild9 Live page collected blog posts in three languages, tweets about Wild9, live streams of many presenters, and Qik videos streamed from delegates’ cell phones, letting people from around the world (they received hits from around 80 countries) feel like they were part of the congress. And, possibly more important, now all that information is archived and available online. You can see the presentation videos at the Wild9 USTREAM page and even check out my presentation about creating clean, easy-to-navigate websites that drive visitors to act, not just look.

Robert Glenn Ketchum is a legendary figure in the conservation photography community — largely because of his revolutionary publishing model, which ensures that his photo books have a tangible impact. He shared his ideas and advice for photographers interested in doing the same on RESOLVE. (Clicking on the image below will take you to his first post — be sure to check out numbers 2 and 3 also.)

Former BBC radio producer Benjamin Chesterton and photojournalist David White, as the multimedia production team duckrabbit, build high-quality multimedia pieces, provide insights on their blog, and help photographers through multimedia training sessions. Once a month on RESOLVE, Ben and/or David highlight and explain a multimedia piece that breaks a “rule,” uses a new technique, or creatively solves a common problem.

I’m writing this from a small hotel in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where duckrabbit and the Bangladeshi photographer Sheikh Rajibul Islam have been working on a documentary about the effects of climate change on this beautiful country.

If the scientists’ predictions are right, up to 20 million Bangladeshi’s will become environmental refugees in the next 50 years. There is no bigger long-term story than the havoc man is wreaking on nature.

It would be easy for us at duckrabbit to reduce our stories about Bangladesh to the most brutal, the most shocking. This is always a temptation for photojournalists looking for the money shot, for their World Press award, but it’s a cheap and ultimately destructive way to capture the world because it reduces people to the status of victims.

At the BBC I used to produce Costing The Earth, their flagship environmental documentary programme. We always strived to tell a balanced story, beyond emotion, because understanding is more important than shock, and debate is more powerful than bashing someone over the head with a message.

Adam Westbrook, a multimedia journalist and blogger, expressed this point brilliantly in a post about a controversial video advertisement by the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontieres:

“We want true stories … but we also want balance.”

“We want true stories, and we want them as gritty as the real world is. But we also want balance — and we recognize a third-world-cliché when we see it.”

There are plenty of weak multimedia pieces about the environment out there that suffer from the same clichéd black-and-white photography and lack of balance in their storytelling, but let’s not blow any more CO2 on their two-dimensional approach. Instead I want to point you to a visually stunning and deeply thoughtful piece of work by Toronto Star photographer Lucas Oleniuk.

Airsick: An Industrial Devolution is designed to persuade us that the earth is slowly drowning in CO2. Part of why it works so well is that, instead of focusing on apocalyptic images of the developing world, the piece is rooted in the familiar, in the industrialized world. I can’t watch this and not feel part of the problem. That is powerful multimedia.

(duckrabbit would like to thank the CBA for funding their recent Bangladesh trip.)

When RESOLVE was just a fledgling, we ran two posts from Greg Gibson titled “It’s never too late to start a personal project.” Since then we’ve seen so many great personal projects, and heard about even more that are still just ideas. By highlighting our faves in this new “It’s Personal” column, we hope to encourage more photographers to turn their great idea into a great personal project.
Garrett with his mom and dad. ©André Hermann

Garrett with his mom and dad. ©André Hermann

Name: André Hermann
Age: 35
Location: Oakland, CA
Full-time job: Visual storyteller

Personal project name and description
Garrett: The Boy Beneath The BandagesEpidermolysis Bullosa, or, EB, is a rare genetic skin disease that most people have never heard of, yet it affects 100,000 children across the United States alone. Children born with this disease lack the ability to produce the collagen-7 protein that acts as a glue to bind the inner and outer layers of skin together. Their skin is extremely sensitive and fragile, with open wounds similar to third degree burns that never heal. The slightest friction or bump causes the skin to blister and break down. EB kids live relatively short lives, wrapped in bandages and in constant pain.

This series of images tells the story of a 12-year-old boy named Garrett, his family, and the challenges they face every day because of this debilitating disease. EB not only takes a toll on its victims and their families, it also affects their friends, caregivers, and the communities that help them. Through these images, I will attempt to give a face to this horrific and unpublicized disease.

When and why did you start it?
I started work on this story in 2008 as my thesis while pursuing a masters in photography at the Academy of Art University. During the summer semester of 2007, I answered an ad on the school’s job board. A nonprofit organization that ran a week-long summer camp for kids with genetic skin disorders needed a photographer. I jumped at the opportunity.

During the week of camp, I met Garrett and his family. I had never heard of EB. In a weird way, I feel like this story found me. Everything just seemed to fall into place. Garrett’s family and I both recognized this as an opportunity to gain much needed awareness for the disease. I pitched the idea to them. I was nervous because I was asking them to enter a 1-year+ commitment without knowing much about me. They agreed to the idea, and here we are today.

Do you have a particular image you are especially drawn to so far? More »


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