It is well established that if you give someone a fish, they’ll have dinner for one night. Teach someone to fish and they’ll have dinner for the rest of their life.
In 1998, Edinburgh University Social Anthropology students Tiffany Fairey and Anna Blackman established two projects which sought to integrate participatory photography into their MA dissertations. These projects, the Rose Class project in Nepal and the Street Vision project in Vietnam, encouraged and inspired refugees from these areas to capture their everyday lives on film, with cameras supplied by the two projects.
The results were overwhelmingly powerful, and gave rise to a legacy project known as PhotoVoice, which has since held over 80 photographic exhibitions and has garnered numerous awards and global recognition. PhotoVoice is supported by many high-profile names such as Sebastiao Salgado, Kenneth Brannagh, Alan Rickman, Rosamund Pike, Juliet Stevenson and Benjamin Zephaniah to name just a few, and others who seek to spread a knowledge and understanding of the human dilemma in impoverished and broken countries and lives, to those of us in other parts of the world.
Pioneering the use of photography with refugee groups, street children, orphans, the homeless, HIV/ AIDS sufferers and other special need groups, PhotoVoice has conducted more than 21 projects in over 12 different countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and the United Kingdom, and boasts over a thousand participants. Partnership projects have included Christian Aid, UNICEF, Amnesty International, Save the Children, The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, Healthlink Worldwide, HIV/AIDS Alliance and United Response, in countries such as Macedonia, Russia, United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Cambodia, India and Equador.
Their ultimate goal is to bring about positive social change for marginalized communities by providing them with photographic training with which they can advocate for their community, express themselves and even earn a living. PhotoVoice continues to empower some of the most disadvantaged groups in the world with photography skills, transforming communities, lives, spirits and social structure.
When those with a limited voice are given the opportunity to tell their story through photography it puts something tangible into the universe – something which can never be undone. Photographs speak where words can often be insufficient or sadly, go unheard. They capture significant moments which can go unnoticed, even if just the smile of a stranger, the tears of a child, a sunrise over a slum.
In a photograph we are forced to focus on that single event – absorb it – take part in that split second captured. And each of those moments are forever etched on more than just the paper they’re printed on, they’re woven into fabric of time. They speak volumes. They say We are here. We exist. We can do this. Here is proof.