For brief overview of the topic, read our blog post, 10 Best Practices for NGOs to Consider When Working with Photographers and Photography.
Photography is a powerful tool that can create awareness and effect change. The visual narrative created through photographs can move individuals to a place and understanding of people, geographies, and events that would otherwise be impossible. Used as a tool to document, educate, move, and inform, photographs have the ability to be a powerful resource in the efforts of human rights practitioners when used effectively and ethically.
New Tactics in Human Rights through its online conversation, The Use of Photography in Advancing Human Rights discusses how human rights organizations can utilize photography to tell a story, examine the best practices for the ethical use of photography, and outline how to work with photographers in the field for optimal outcomes.
Tactical examples shared
- Importance of the integrity of the images – Caesar torture evidence file.
- The photographer should have informed freedom.
- Organizations should select photographers with experience in dealing with sensitive subjects.
- Vlad Sokhin’s photo essay, “Crying Meri: Violence Against Women in Papua New Guinea,” led to legislative action to protect women’s rights in Papua New Guinea.
- Using photographs as an advocacy tool:
- Greg Constantine’s advocacy using photo essays to highlight the plight of stateless people – Project Nowhere People.
- PROOF’s exhibition entitled The Legacy of Rape.
- In Nepal, Nayan Tara Gurang’s photos and 2 of the testimonies were brought to the UN Human Rights commission as evidence against the perpetrators by Trial, a Swiss non-governmental organization.
- Women survivors in Colombia.
- Legal prosecution of sexual violence in conflict (www.theprosecutorsmovie.com).
- Purpose of image and agenda of organization are important considerations.
- Narrative building:
- Reframing human rights issues:
- Using photography to create platforms for humanitarian and agency groups :
- Children of Syria
- “The Price of Precious”, documenting conflict minerals and mining in Congo, led to future collaborations between humanitarian groups working in Congo and providers of medical supplies.
- “House of Cards: Rebuilding and Sustenance” – documents local responses to the housing crises.
- “Chicago and the Food Chain” – documents local responses to food access.
- “Sanctuary and Sustenance” launched in 11 cities on World Refugee Day.
- Advocacy strategies
- Photovoice methodology:
- Importance of editing and sequencing.
- Photography in research.
Photography as a Visual Narrative
It is important to maintain the integrity of the photographs, the metadata and the hardware used for taking the photographs as these will be subject to scrutiny. For the purpose of using photos as evidence, it is essential that RAW files are produced to withstand investigation. For images intended for publication, adjustments such as ‘toning’ are common.
Hiring an experienced photographer is important as knowing what to shoot to create a visual narrative is a skill developed by experience. Placing stories is equally important as developing stories for organizations seeking to bring important stories to the public arena. To capture the best images, the photographer ought to be given informed freedom. Organizations are encouraged to be flexible in respect of this to produce better results for all. Compelling photographs have resulted in legislative action (Vlad Sokhin’s photo essay, “Crying Meri: Violence Against Women in Papua New Guinea). It is also important for organizations to work together and share outstanding photographs to build community support to leverage and push for legislative action, and also as a platform/advocacy tool to galvanize action.
Editing and sequencing are important as it affects the efficacy of the photographs. Framing the issue intended to be highlighted is also important. At times, re-framing the issues is necessary to make it more public friendly.
Participants to the conversation discussed that human rights photography need not be impartial, however it has to be honest. Photographers should not alter the conditions under which they operate but navigate them with respect. If at all, any influence a photographer might have on their surroundings must be exerted after first building some sort of relationship and understanding with their subjects. There should be empathy for the subject.
The best human rights images are made by photographers who are passionately engaged and committed to present the truth as best they can. Generally, in the context of human rights, the audience tend to favor the same side as the photographer and exhibiting organization.
Best Practices Working with Photographers and Photography
An organization's approach to their field work is reflected in the way in which they hire and work with media makers. Organizations should trust and give the photographer informed freedom to present the truth in its best possible form. Organizations should give photographers the liberty to ask questions, pursue curiosity, and respond positively to stories that defy conventional wisdom. This sometimes uncovers human issues that would otherwise normally go unnoticed.
At times, the experience of the photographer as a storyteller is not always recognized. The best use of photography in advocacy campaigns comes when a multi-disciplined team is working together - research, campaign, communications , media and the photographer. A photographer who understands the issues and the goals of the non-governmental organization stands in a better position to present photos to advance the cause of the organization. Photography is currently being utilized more in research as photos are being used as visual evidence to support text based reports. (http://features.hrw.org/features/Unravelling_central_african_republic/in...).
Negotiating security parameters are tricky for photographers as most freelance photographers cannot afford the type of serious, reliable insurance that covers them for injury to life and limb in hostile environments. However there have been instances that important images are taken in areas that are out of the security parameters imposed. It is also important for organizations to remunerate photographers accordingly.
Photo © 2014 Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi