How Photography Inspires Global Change

by Lex van den Berghe

posted on 09-05-2018

Last month, Adobe brought together four renowned photographers at the American Museum of Natural History for a meaningful discussion with Adobe’s Vice President of Digital Imaging, Maria Yap, on how photography inspires global change. In the age of viral photos like Justin Hofman’s arresting image of a seahorse lugging a Q-tip through the ocean, or Nilüfer Demir’s haunting photo of 3-year-old Syrian Alan Kurdi washed up on the shore of Turkey, it’s clear that photography is more important to motivating real action than ever before.

Our four panelists exemplified just that, and all are dedicated to using their art to drive positive change. From 20-year-old Myles Loftin, an up-and-coming portrait photographer tackling topics like black identity and representation, to the legendary Annie Griffiths, one of the first female National Geographic photographers who has traveled to over 160 countries, the photographers represented different generations, perspectives, and styles.

Among the group sat Carol Guzy, the former staff photographer at The Washington Post who has won four Pulitzer Prizes (the most of any photojournalist). She kicked off the night by describing why photography is such a powerful agent for change. “Photographs are truly the universal language,” she said. “It’s what reaches people on a really visceral, emotional, gut level that I think many other mediums don’t. When it resonates in someone’s soul and heart, I think that’s what incrementally creates change.”

The conversation naturally turned to social media and smartphone photography, and how those technologies are changing storytelling today. Myles, who was recently in the national media spotlight for his groundbreaking project HOODED that breaks down the societal image of black men dressed in hoodies, shared his unique perspective as someone who grew up in the digital age and doesn’t know a time without cellphones. “Before, when there was less access to cameras, other people were telling other people’s stories for them,” he said. “Now, people have more agency and are able to communicate their own stories from their own perspectives, as opposed to someone writing their story for them.”

Empathy was a word used with fervor by the panelists throughout the evening, especially when it came to the ethical implications of emerging technologies. “I always stress the word empathy. It’s a small word, but it’s huge, and I don’t think that you can successfully make compelling images without having that empathy,” explained Carol. “I think it’s so critical for everyone to check ego at the door. It’s not about us making great pictures or winning awards, it’s about the narrative of others and having the passion for the people or the issues that you’re trying to portray.”

Annie, who serves as executive director of Ripple Effect Images, a collective of photographers who document programs empowering women and girls throughout the developing world, expanded on this idea of empathy and passion in photography. “To me, photography for good is looking into your own backyard and thinking about what you care about.”

But where does this passion grow from? For Colby Brown, founder of The Giving Lens, an organization that blends photo education with support for various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world, it all started with travel. “It was really just the idea of ‘I want to travel’ that was the conduit that allowed me to pick up my first camera. I liked that experience, and I wanted to chase experiences.”

The topic of photography inspiring global change is a tough and complex one to tackle in one night — there are so many stories to be told. However, these four photographers exemplify the breadth of opinion and perspective needed to do just that, touching on a wide range of important elements to change-inspiring photography like empathy, context, and compassion. To dive into the discussion with Annie, Carol, Colby, and Myles, you can watch the full discussion in the video below.

Bringing this group together for such an important discussion is just one part of Adobe’s efforts to inspire photographers to create for good. Learn more about Colby’s recent work with Adobe to make storytelling more accessible for students in the Virgin Islands here, and join our collaboration with Annie by sharing your most inspiring work with #PhotographyForGood.


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