I want to send a hearty “congratulations!” out to the mentees on my pilot eMentoring scheme, Daylin Paul and Gitika Saksena, who are both – I’m very sure – on the road to great things. If you subscribe to my monthly newsletter, you may remember Daylin and his work with Thai mother Maw from my March issue. And if you were one of the lovely people who pledged your financial support following my plea for backers to help Daylin finish telling Maw’s story, a tremendous “thank you!” goes out to you. You’ll be very happy to see this:
From his e-mails, it was always abundantly clear to me that Daylin wanted more than anything to find a means of completing his work with a woman he felt a strong affinity for. Here’s an extract from his recent blog post on the subject:
For a while I really struggled to pin down why it is that I feel as strongly as I do for her, a woman I’ve only met on a handful of occasions but who has been graceful enough to allow my camera and I into her life. Being raised by a single mother who had to work hard her entire life to support my brother and I, I guess I feel a connection there. I saw what it was like for my own mother to survive and take care of us and I saw parallels with Maw’s own life.
But I think now, more than anything, it was Maw’s own willingness to share her life, her home and even her food with a stranger who could only communicate with her through body language, broken Thai and the help of a translator that really made me feel in a way I haven’t for a long time.
We humanitarian and development photographers are tremendously fortunate when we get to know such people while starting out on our careers. It takes time to tell a compelling story, which means they really need to let us into their lives in a significant manner. In their own humble way, they often give us far more than they realise could be possible. It would not be an exaggeration to say that they can really help us make our careers, in turn ensuring that many an organisation and the beneficiaries they support will gain from the funds our talents can open doors to. In that sense, they are unsung heroes.
Telling these important stories is a collaborative process between photographer and subject. Few photographers are sufficiently independently wealthy, especially when just setting out on their paths, to be able to pay the costs of this work alone. When people like those who have backed Daylin here pledge their support, they too become collaborators. Thanks to the magic of the Internet and crowd funding, this is today easier than ever. Yet times are hard, and we must make our cases more and more convincingly.
Non-profits are often the first to remind us that times are hard. One really has to demonstrate the ability to add value in unusual and special ways if one is to secure paid work ahead of an apparent army of aspiring NGO photographers willing to shoot pro bono. Having said that, the opportunities we get to shoot for free during the early days are our chances to shine, build our portfolios and gain credibility. I did that with organisations such as Save the Children in the wake of the Egyptian Revolution and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in Kenya during the East African drought. And I never looked back.
A lot of people grumble about having to work for free in order to get a foot on the ladder. A lot of NGO photographers also grumble about those that work for free preventing them from getting paid work. When Gitika asked me whether or not she should do this, I explained why I thought she should. So she got on with it. She made contact with the India-based children’s NGO Child Rights and You (CRY) and worked conscientiously with them in order to produce The Children of Raichur.
Again, this was an act of collaboration. Collaboration between photographer and subjects, but also with enablers. While for Daylin these enablers were people like you who donated from a distance, for Gitika they were CRY and its local partner NGO, Sneha Jeevi Samsthe, who opened the door to one of their project areas and gave her easy access. Support from people a community trusts is worth more than its weight in gold, allowing humanitarian and development photographers to get up close and personal in far less time than could be possible while working alone.
The photo essay she’s since produced will in turn open further doors for Gitika. It’s already been picked up by The Alternative (the link will take you to where it features on the site of this online social development platform), and the former India Country Director of Oxfam GB Murray Culshaw has since commented on the piece, saying “Good writing linked to fine photographs. We need so much more of both and especially when combined to help communicate the work being done by so many fine organisations”. Gitika has since been in touch with Murray, now an independent communications for development consultant, directly. She’s on her way!
So as the title of this piece says, “Bravo to my mentees!”. Your hard work will pay off, of that I’m very certain.