Who’s your favorite?

So, artists, executives, nonprofit organizations, who are the photographers you look at the most? Whom do you love? Who tells the best story in the most beautiful phrases?

PhotoPhilanthropy has just received an outstanding deluge of entries for the Activist Awards, and, I’d like to know, those of you who submitted and those of you who have looked at the submissions, and those of you who just like pictures, who are your favorite photographers? And why?

I am a little bit embarrassed to tell you who my favorite photographers are, because the level of idolatry I’m liable to communicate is, well, it’s unseemly. You may suddenly feel as through I’m a shrieking teenager and you are at an ‘N Sync concert circa 1999.

But I’ll start with the elephant in the room. I am a student of Emmet Gowin’s, and his way of teaching, way of being, and way of making art have had an enormous influence on me. As a result, he is my #1 favorite.

What I love about Emmet’s work is that it takes on huge, multifaceted social issues—wicked problems, as a policy wonk might say—and explores them, without losing any of their complexity, or their poignancy. His work, like the book Changing the Earth or his new moth portraits, talks about the impact human beings are having on the world, while also reveling in the world itself; in its paradoxes and its surprises.

emmet moths

Emmet Gowin, Mariposas Nocturnas, Index No. 8, Yashumi and Otenga, Ecuador, 2007

It’s a bit hard to put into words. Joel Smith, the curator of photographs at the Princeton University Art Museum, and the force behind the new  show Emmet Gowin: A Collective Portrait, says it better than I can.

In his introduction to the catalogue, he writes of the moth pictures, “Seen collectively, these portraits manifest the diversity of a natural order that is endangered on every front; seen alone, each embodies an ingenious beauty that remains available to the eye of anyone willing to become its student.”

I believe that great images a) are visually captivating; b) teach you something new; c) make you feel something; and d) tell a story.

When nonprofits communicate what they do, I think the goals are similar. You have to a) get an audience; b) teach them about the issue you work on; c) convince them that issue is important; and d) show the way forward.

That’s why I think artists and nonprofits have such great potential for collaboration. They’re often working toward the same ends, and we need both media—art and organization—to keep moving forward.

So share your favorites with us!

Comment below, tweet your response to @PhotoPhilan, or email me at eliza@photophilanthropy.org.

November 11, 2009 at 5:58 am Leave a comment

A different kind of picture

It is easy to get depressed by the news (intractable problems, inscrutable wars, a failing healthcare system). It’s also easy to escape it completely (my vices = Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy, Mad Men). But where do we go to understand the challenges facing the world right now, without feeling paralyzed by them?

One answer is to focus on individual stories. When you look at an issue through the lens of a single life, you get a different kind of picture. You get depth, and humor, and inspiration as well as education about the issues of our time.

There are a lot of people making incredible work like this; work that introduces us to each other. It’s the positive side of globalization. You can meet people from anywhere, just by looking around.

You’ve got On Being, from the Washington Post, which is a section of the online edition that presents poignant, nuanced interviews with all sorts of people about all sorts of human dilemmas and experiences.

on being

There is 6 Billion Others, a project created by French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, which displays 5,000 interviews conducted with people all around the world. The interviews were built on forty questions like, What have you learnt from your parents? What do you want to pass on to your children? What difficult circumstances have you been through? and What does love mean to you?


I believe it is this kind of conversation that builds the strong communities that allow people to live better lives. So I really enjoy these projects on a lot of levels. It’s fun to hear people talk, and it’s fun to think about a lot of people all listening to each other.

PhotoPhilanthropy is doing this kind of work by focusing on one organization at a time. A lot of people are doing a lot of incredible work to create change on all different scales, from building one-on-one relationships to creating massive networks of social services. We need to hear those stories! What’s working? What isn’t? Who needs more help? What can we do for each other?

The photo essays that are available to see at www.photophilanthropy.org tell remarkable stories. From a prison arts program in California to an opera house’s outreach program in Belgium to the Global Fund for Children in Peru, people have created organizations all over the world to build stronger communities.

This is a moment when all sorts of people are reaching out to help others. Sometimes those “others” are halfway around the world, sometimes they are all the way around the corner. But it’s exciting to see all the great work being done right now. Get inspired. Take a look! And let us know your thoughts.

Comment below or email eliza@photophilanthropy.org

November 3, 2009 at 11:32 am 2 comments

Newer Posts

"In this way his work is more powerful in its moments of creation, when real human interactions are eroding racial stereotypes, than in its exhibition. And if the work succeeds, it is not because Subotzky can use a camera like no one else, it is because his photographs embody his efforts to confront social injustice on a personal level." --Charles Schultz on Mikhael Subotzky

PhotoPhilanthropy’s blog is written by Eliza Gregory

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