The Philanthropic Photographer
How to Use Basic Photography Skills to Make a Difference in the Lives of Others
Creativity starts with making the most out of any situation. Everyone uses their creativity for different purposes, using different methods and individualized techniques. Sometimes they give speeches, sometimes they draw, or sometimes they take photographs like me. My adventure with photography started not long ago. Five years ago, I signed up for a photography club. At that time, since I knew nothing about photography, I lacked the tools, too. So, I borrowed the DSLR camera my mother had bought for herself, but never used. Her camera was nothing professional. Basically, I could use ISO up to 1600, and the camera couldn’t focus in the dark. Yet, it was enough for me to learn and to contribute.
Five years passed. Borrowing that camera had helped me to build my basic skills. I was on top of my work, with the added satisfaction of being able to express myself creatively. There, my path divided into two rocky roads. I could choose to use photography as a way of making money, but was that really the point? Would it ever satisfy me? I had grown-up in an area of Istanbul, Turkey, that was surrounded by social conflict. After some soul searching, I soon realized that through photography, I had been given an opportunity to use my skills as a powerful tool that might help others.
As an initial foray into using my skills for good, I organized a personal photography exhibition that showcased lives, ideas, and emotions from my surroundings. I used my earnings from this venture to contribute to a UNICEF organization for Anatolian children who are forced to be agricultural workers. I felt so much joy knowing that my photography helped children get the help that they both needed and deserved. I knew I needed to do more.
For my next venture, I started a photography club in my community. We started with the basics. First, I taught light photography to my club members. It was nothing like the photographs out there on the internet, but it was a valued experience for the students, who knew nothing about photography. They signed for the workshop to learn what they could do with their creativity. Our first workshop was a masterpiece! Everybody contributed. Everybody learned. Everybody created something.
We started off by creating a Halloween-themed photograph. On our first try, the light radiating from the flashlight was too intense. For this reason, we covered the flashlight with transparent, colored paper. When working with light photography, it’s important that you use flashlights or tools with different intensities. For example, we wrote “Halloween” with a very thin flashlight in combination with a flashlight that had an expanding radiation. This resulted in a silhouette. In another picture, one of the students held a flashlight steady from the back of a volunteer model’s hair, so that the silhouette might look spooky. For our other photographs, we covered a flashlight in blue paper and used it like a pen to create more significant figures.
The figures weren’t that great, but the students were in love with how you could use light to create real images. With these two pictures, they wanted to show their empowerment and excitement that was built through this workshop. I was really happy that they saw the deeper meaning of a photograph. These images were not only for entertainment, but to represent their ideas. At the end, to thank me, they took this photograph to represent how this brilliant workshop idea occurred in my mind.
The children weren’t the only individuals to benefit from this venture. I also benefited by realizing that I could use my (albeit basic) photography skills to help others. In a single workshop, students from different backgrounds and of different abilities learned the techniques of shutter speed, managed to timely draw the figures and letters, and came up with great perspective through trial and error. Not only that, but they used light photography to give messages through metaphors and simple lines. They learned the power of photography.
Many great workshops followed, as I widened my reach to other parts of the community. Others contributed shoes, some contributed food, and I contributed photography. I took photographs of the children, and sometimes, I let the children experience the other side of the lens. On one occasion, we were distributing shoes. A young girl approached me and asked if she could have another shoe for her brother because he lacked one. It broke my heart to see the unfairness of such good hearts being put in this position. Until that moment, I thought my job was to focus on the donation, but my aim evolved. As a photographer, I saw a new calling: To show everyone who was not there that day, the reality of most children in the world. We, as photographers, carry something more than an expensive lens. We carry a weapon that can be used to share our and others’ experiences. It is our power to make a difference.
Today I think, what a random act that I signed up for that photography club. It was as though that day introduced me to myself and the self that I want to be. I am still using my mother’s camera. I have gone on to capture many eyes, many emotions, and many lives. I try my best to use my skill to make little changes to improve the lives of others. If you’re aching for a purpose, I urge you to think about using your skill as a photographer to make a difference in the lives of others. And never forget that you are not alone in this beautiful aim.