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I recently made photos for a charity’s food drop. Based in Medellin, Colombia, Feed The Barrios helps feed communities that need support. It should come as no surprise that people in Colombia are struggling. The pandemic aside, 27% of the nation lives in poverty. So, when I got the opportunity to help in some small way, I immediately committed. And throughout the event, I realized the importance of using my skills to help those that require them most.
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Every Photographer Should Do Photography For Charity in Some Way
Before we get into it, this piece isn’t about what a great person I am. Honestly, I could do more in regard to using my skill in a vocational manner. Thinking about it, I’m slightly embarrassed that I haven’t done enough. And I’m not here to preach and tell you you’re not doing enough. However, I am sharing the benefits of using photography to help others, hopefully inspiring you to do the same.
Here’s what helping Feed The Barrios brought home for me.
Having a Skill Shouldn’t Only Benefit Me
I believe all of us initially develop a skill for our sole benefit. Whether for bragging rights, career progression, or just enjoyment, having a skill comes with perks. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there must be a point where we use that skill to give back to other areas of society. That’s especially true with something like photography, as it’s powerful and makes a huge difference. So when I attended the food drop, I realized I was sitting on a skill that could help. It’s a skill I shouldn’t keep to myself.
Will my photographs end poverty? No. But they will contribute in some way to help the charity grow and put a smile on the faces of the local people, which brings me to my next point.
Charity Photography Brings Joy to People
Firstly, allow me to disburse a myth: just because people need support doesn’t mean their life is total hell. They, of course, find room for happiness.
When photographing the food drop, lots of children and adults had a genuine interest in my camera. They were curious, and they wanted to see it and try and understand it. All of them wanted to be models too, which was lots of fun. They smiled, laughed, and rejoiced as we played around with my Fujifilm XT2. It’s a camera that’s fun to play with due to its manual ergonomics.
I realized how much photography is a gift. Photography excites people, and it takes their minds off the struggles of life. It allows them to forget and then connect to something powerful and creative.
Doing Vocational Photography Helps You Love the Craft More
Seeing the enjoyment photography brings to others made me love the craft more. I’ve said this before, but sometimes, when we do something so often, we stop seeing its true value. Seeing the locals having so much enjoyment because of my camera allowed me to remember why I love it so much.
Seeing how it can put a smile on faces made me feel grateful. Also, without photography, maybe I would have never attended that food drop. The craft opens up doors and puts you in situations where you can make a difference. I love that.
There Are No Negatives
Sometimes, photography can become soul-destroying. A big reason for that is because we often find ourselves making images for validation. There’s something kind of dirty about making images for pats on the back. Did you really like that image? Or did you make it because others would like it? Often it’s because of the latter.
But working for charity has no drawbacks. Sure, you’re still creating for others, but it’s not (or shouldn’t be) for admiration. Instead, it’s to give something to someone else. You leave charity work feeling wholesome and confident you’re doing photography for the right reasons.
You Validate People
My approach to working this food drop was to help people feel normal. I had no interest in making photos of people looking desperate or as if they were suffering.
They are people just like you and I. They, like us, feel a range of emotions: some good, some bad. I didn’t want these people to feel like a project. In some small way, I aimed to make them feel seen, heard, and special. That was especially true with the children. These kids live in some pretty difficult circumstances. But one thing I noticed is all they wanted was to have a good time. So that’s what I gave them.
Documentary Photography Vs. Charity Work
Some may be reading this thinking, “I do documentary photography to raise awareness, isn’t that the same?” The short answer is no.
Don’t get me wrong, documentary photography is important and meaningful. But photographers get applauded for their efforts. They get published in magazines and online publications. That’s fine, but it’s likely benefiting their careers more than it benefits their subjects.
Charity work isn’t about the success of the photographer. It’s purely about stepping back and using your skills to make a difference, no matter how small or large. Is it completely selfless? No. I felt terrific after working with the charity. But that was a private feeling, and the only reason these images are going to digital print is to encourage other photographers to do the same as me. Otherwise, they would only be for the use of the charity.
If you have long thought about doing some vocational work, I highly advise you to act now. You have something truly extraordinary in the form of your photography skills, and they can make a difference. So, find a local charity needing your expertise and start making that difference. Thanks for reading.
You can learn more about Feed The Barrios by visiting the website.