Working with Passion: On Assignment for NGOs
One of the greatest gifts for a working photographer is to be commissioned to shoot a story about an issue that matters to them. When the organization hiring you shares a passion for your subject, the potential for extraordinary and far-reaching outcomes are immeasurable.
Photography as a tool for social change has long proven to be powerful and compelling. In today’s market, there is potential to create in-depth stories for both non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the philanthropic arm of a foundation within a corporation. These organizations strive to effect change and use photography to visualize their mission and work they are doing. The length of engagement for photographers can be much longer than a typical assignment, and the impact can be much greater.
While studying photography at The Portfolio Center. Atlanta-based photographer Audra Melton met designer Greg Samata of Samata.us, who later hired Melton to shoot for their client The Atlantic Philanthropies, documenting their efforts towards public health, education, and social justice. She worked side-by-side for weeks with staffers from the foundations to capture powerful images in the countries targeted to receive aid. Melton is typically asked to deliver a library of images that serve the broad needs of her clients, retaining the rights to renegotiate for any advertising placements and to use the work she produced for self-promotion.
Melton shares: “The main difference I find between working through a design firm and working with the NGO directly is that there can sometimes be a second set or subset of photos that the firm is looking for. Often the ideas a designer or art director has will enhance the work—they’re thinking more about the actual photo rather than just recording what’s happening. Sometimes a resolution is needed between those two elements. I always try and shoot both. preferably simultaneously.” Corporate philanthropy work has led Melton to a broader career where storytelling continues to be at the core of her commissions.
New York City-based photographer Ashley Gilbertson finds it gratifying to work with like-minded NGOs that share his commitment for issues such as the global refugee crisis. Represented by VII Photo, he is respected for following his subjects on what are sometimes long, arduous journeys.
Early in his career Gilbertson was inspired by the work Sebastião Salgado produced in the mid-1980s, covering severe drought in Africa for the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders. Between assignments, Gilbertson frequently reaches out to aid organizations, offering to accompany their delegation on their missions, a practice he began early in his career. These collaborations produce powerful photographs that the NGOs can utilize to communicate globally about the issues they support.
Gilbertson retains rights and can further promote awareness of these issues using the size and strength of his followers, and the broader community VII Photo on social media and other platforms. “Rather than working for a client, we are working with an organization. Such partnerships have fostered commissions and special relationships such as VII Photo’s collaboration with UNICEF,” says Gilbertson.
The root of all research begins with what’s important to you. What do you care about and how you can use photography to help achieve change? Connect with those who share your passions and are working to solve problems. This may be the most gratifying work you will do with your camera.