Becoming a Humanitarian Photographer, Part II

(For related posts, check out other entries in the Humanitarian Photography category.)

In my previous post about starting out as a humanitarian photographer, I discussed how to go about creating, planning, and executing your own self-assignments, in order to gain experience in the field and begin to develop a portfolio of work. In this post I’d like to discuss some resources that can help you develop in a different way. An important part of being a humanitarian photographer is understanding what humanitarian aid organizations aim to do, the issues they address, and the people and populations they work with.

young girl, Duenas
San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala photo by dojoklo

A great place to get a broad view of the important humanitarian issues in developing countries is the TED website, which presents a ongoing series of “riveting talks by remarkable people.” Each one I’ve watched has been interesting and enlightening, and they are worth searching through to find the topics that most interest you. Here are a few of my favorites that relate to humanitarian work:

Start with Hans Rosling’s “Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen.” Through his innovative, visual, and dramatic use of statistics, he begins to tear apart myths and preconceptions about the developing world. His other lectures on poverty, AIDS, and Asia are equally as interesting and worthwhile.

Bill Gate’s lecture on “Mosquitos, Malaria, and Education” gained notoriety in the media with his tactic of releasing of mosquitoes into the audience. Through his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he is focusing his money, attention, and shrewd business sense to tackling some of the largest and most important humanitarian issues of today.

Paul Collier’s lecture on the “Bottom Billion” addresses the ways we can, and must, close the gap between the rich and poor.

Wade Davis is an anthropologist and ethnobiologist who has spent his career studying indigenous cultures. I highly recommend reading his books, including Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures. In it he celebrates and speaks to the importance of the fascinatingly diverse ways cultures have chosen to exist on this planet. In addition, the book contains stunning photos Davis has taken on his adventures around the globe. Some of these thoughts and photos are part of his lecture on “Endangered Cultures.”

There are many other lectures on these types of issues, so be sure to check out the links and suggested lectures after watching the ones I’ve listed. There are other lectures that aren’t directly related to humanitarian topics which are however very interesting and may help to expand your thinking.

Malcolm Gladwell is always helpful in shifting the way one thinks about things, and his talk on “Spaghetti Sauce” is very entertaining.

Robert Sapolsky, who spends a lot of time studying primates, has interesting and surprising insights into what does, and doesn’t make humans unique.

VS Ramachandran’s talks on the brain, including “The Neurons That Shaped Civilization” are also quite fascinating.

And finally, I can’t leave you without a photography related lecture. James Nachtwey’s “Searing Photos of War” will be an eye-opening and inspiring presentation for any aspiring photojournalist.

I have to warn you, watching one lecture typically leads to another, and they are quite addictive.

For related posts, check out other entries in the Humanitarian Photography category.

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