Composing photographs for fundraising campaigns is complex. To take photographs that horrify, shock or sensationalise a disease or tragedy is not appropriate. It risks losing the subject’s dignity, culture and promotes poverty porn; but to remove all evidence of a critical situation or disability will not support a fundraising campaign.
Two accomplished photographers, Tom Bradley and Ruth Towell, who work for NGOs, and create photographs for fundraising campaigns, share their views on how to find that middle ground.
Tom Bradley has worked for NGOs throughout Africa and Asia and particularly loves working in Bangladesh. In terms of composition and preparation before capturing his subjects, he says:
There are a number of factors that make a photograph look right and of course that can be subjective. The light, the composition, the graphic lines within the image the content, the expression and the look of the person in the moment, all interweave to tell a story.
In the best photographs, the story reveals the truth about that person or, maybe, a greater universal truth. If you feel connected to a photograph in some tangible way, I think something is really working.Tom Bradley
There is a limitation in using a single image when it comes to portraying someone. I like multiple images of the same person showing different (or subtly different) expressions. We’re all complex beings that experience a diverse and complex set of emotions after all!Tom Bradley
This is Arifa. As a teenager, she was fed up with her father coming home at night, drunk, and beating up her mother. She saw alcohol as a real problem in her village, so she destroyed the urns holding it, and was beaten up by the local men as a result.
The first photograph shows a serious, sober side to her. The second, taken as she laughed, is more ambiguous because of the blur, but there is a hint in that gesture of covering her face, in a way that many Bangladeshis might assume she is laughing. She told Tom:
“During the fight, my family and I were harassed and hurt. I was beaten with heavy wood and bamboo sticks. I was in the hospital for 21 days, and after that I was put in a safe house for a month. If my GG team weren’t there, I wouldn’t be alive today.”
“Today there is no addiction in my village, but the problem persists in neighbouring villages which I want to stop. So be it if I’m assaulted again, if I lose more blood, I still want to make these places free of addiction. Addiction destroys the society and it hurts the youth.
The NGO Brotee helps rural development by uniting youth and giving them confidence and resources to resolve community problems.
Ruth Towell Photography & Film
Photographer and filmmaker, Ruth Towell, has many years of experience working across the globe for NGOs and international brands. She has a particular love for connecting people and telling their stories. She says:
We live in a world where almost everyone has a camera in their pocket with no limit on the number of photos that can be taken. Whilst this technology has opened up amazing opportunities to capture immediate moments, a great photograph is rarely found in a quick throwaway snapshot.Ruth Towell
There’s a reason so many iconic photographs were taken by photographers who have practised on film.
Sometimes I work in situations where a moment is unfolding before my eyes and I have seconds to process these decisions before clicking the shutter to capture a candid frame, other times, I can take a little longer to create a considered portrait.Ruth Towell
With a finite numbers of costly frames to play with, the photographer must ensure the composition is perfect; removing any distractions from the shot and keeping the focus on the story they are depicting, working with available light and making technical choices that influence the look and feel of a photograph, and finally, working with the subject to create an environment where they feel comfortable and empowered to share their story.
And finally, some straightforward advice from Ruth about creating better photographs:
Next time you take a photo, take a few moments to look through the viewfinder and really consider the image you are about to create. A great photograph is considered, composed and crafted.Ruth Towell
Next week is Eastertide. Many of us celebrate Christmas with holidays, time with family and friends, yet arguably, Easter is even more important.
I am the way and the truth and the life.John 14:6
Featured image above by kind permission of Ruth Towell. Fadi lives in an IDP camp in Northern Iraq after his family fled conflict. He lost his leg when a bomb hit the building he was in.