Through a Lens Brightly: Women, Photography & Change
A Blog Series in Honor of Women’s History Month
For some, it begins as a way to fill out a rÃ©sumÃ©. Like applying to college or for a job, serving a cause indicates that a person is well-rounded with ties to a world beyond them self. For others, standing up is linked to tough circumstances in their own lives, while others are so deeply affected by a something they see they feel compelled to act. In all cases, they don’t have to, and in most cases they don’t get material rewards.
There is a raging debate in photography about whether you should ever give a picture away. Some say never, that to give an image for free cheapens its worth and undercuts the value of professional photographers. Others, more realistic, note how blurred the line between professionals and amateurs has become, that many non-profits (and for-profits) will not pay for images, relying instead on interns and willing staff. Good, reasonably priced digital cameras have leveled the playing field. It’s a rough world out there and everyone is struggling.
A book that reset the lens on giving is Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. In it, they argue that giving money to women is highly effective because they spend it on family, shelter, and education, not liquor, cigarettes, and vice. They also show how giving even small amounts to worthy, well-structured causes can bring about tremendous change. Size does not always matter, ripples do.
There are many ways to give. Some people choose to give money to a cause, while others give their time. But there is a special joy in giving through your personal art. Whether they photograph, curate, or make films, the women this series have all made significant contributions to their own communities and the photographic world at large. They stepped up, they did something, they made a difference.
Professional Women Photographers has always honored and stood up for women. Founded in 1975, at a time when women had great difficulty entering the field, it provided a place where women photographers could support and encourage each other, a haven where they could grow.
Conditions have improved for women photographers, and PWP has reached out through its Community Service Committee to help struggling New Yorkers. Each year it teams up with a non-profit to help with photography. Past partners include University Settlement House, Learning Leaders, Women In Need, and the Food Bank. This year, the CSC is teaching photography to high school teens in Rego Park.
The Community Service Committee was founded by Andy Mars after she heard a story about how children whose portraits were taken by professional photographers were more likely to be adopted than those without pictures. The images brought them to life: their smiles and joy captured the hearts of potential parents in ways words alone could not. The impact of photography is substantial; the impact of great photography exponential.
All the women featured in this series were compelled to act. They felt a need to apply their talents and insight directly; making a financial contribution was not enough. They all inspired me and I know they will inspire you.
Links to other articles in Through a Lens Brightly: Women, Photography & Change: