Photography for storytelling

Avatar Thamara Kandabada
Member since June 7, 2014
  • 29 Posts
  • Age 23

The speakers, from left to right; Thishya Weragoda, Menika van der Poorten and Abdul Halik Azeez

The speakers, from left to right; Thishya Weragoda, Menika van der Poorten and Abdul Halik Azeez

I had the pleasure of attending an event organised by UNICEF Sri Lanka today. I did a photo-post earlier inviting enthusiasts to attend the event, themed #Photography for storytelling, which was in fact a continuation of the #Y4C (Youth for Children) Dialogue. The event featured a line-up of interesting speakers, passionate undertakers of the art of photography, who delivered remarks and personal stories on various aspects of photography.

The event also highlighted a promo of the #CiF (Children in Focus) photography competition, which is a joint initiative of UNICEF Sri Lanka, Metropolitan and Rotaract Shutterbug (a project by the Rotaract Club of Panadura, Sri Lanka).

As such, the event addressed an audience of youth activists and enthusiasts from diverse backgrounds - Rotaractors, journalists, bloggers, Instagram-ers, Tweeps among many others.

The first speaker was Menika van der Poorten, who has pursued her dreams in photography and the development of photography education for more than 3 decades. She spoke of her early life and moments with the camera, and later went on to highlight the importance of photography for the purpose of conveying stories and messages. She also spoke about enjoying the art as a freelance photographer as opposed to being a commercial photographer. "I have seen a lot of photographers who start off quite creative, really expressive, and then when they go into the commercial field, because they have to go by what the employers or clients dictate, they lose their original style and become almost formulaic."

Menika also spoke about the interesting projects she has worked on, particularly Women out of the frame which was a call out to both professional and amatuer photogarphers to "centerstage images of women". Menika said "We wanted a multiplicity of perspectives. It wasn't about getting that great picture that said it all". The project had been a great success and a number of workshops and an exhibition have been held. You can check out the project website here.

Menika gave the audience a broad picture of how photographs are used for storytelling, by using sample images of the Vietnam War, The Belgian misdeeds in Congo, the US Southern states in the 1930's, the Pink Brigade of India and also from various parts of Sri Lanka.

The second speaker, Anushka Wijesinha, who is an economist and a hobbyist photographer, was unable to join us physically owing to an unfortunate injury, but took the pains to use a videolink to speak to the extremely interested audience. Anushka spoke on the importance of captions and narratives associating photographs. "Narratives, for me, really move a photograph's appeal. A lot of what you see online today, what makes them so appealing when you share them and read them is becuase there's a story attached to it, and not just a bunch of photos." Anushka is one of the curators of The Picture Press which is an open online platform for development-oriented photography and photojournalism in Sri Lanka and South Asia.

"Development means different things to different people. To an economist like myself it is one thing, and it differs from the view of a journalist, a regular citizen or a professional photographer. So capturing that through photographs and also through the narratives accompanying those photographs really added value." Anushka said. You can check out the interesting stories featured in their website here.

Anushka went on to point out the importance of using narratives to accompany photographs. He said that narratives play a major role in helping people to understand the context and to immerse themselves in the situation, while providing information and also calling out for action, where applicable.

Abdul Halik Azeez, a well known citizen journalist and a business consultant, was the third speaker at the event. He focused on freely available platforms for photography, like Instagram, and how they have transformed the conception of photography overtime. "When Instagram came along the entire artform of photography was liberalised. What I found was that I no longer had to stick to the conventional norms, I could be innovative, stay true to the original instincts within me and still find an appreciative audience for it."

Halik further mentioned the advantages of the discrete nature of mobile photography in capturing priceless moments. "The best photos I have taken have been almost always spontaneous - I have taken them out of the window or while walking down the street.You can't have a camera with you all the time." He invited all Sri Lankan Instagram-ers to try out an exciting opportunity called the "SriLankaBaton", which is an Instagram account handed over to different users each day. So far, this account has evolved to be a nice mosaic of photos around Sri Lanka. You can check out the account here - don't hesitate to drop them an email if you want to sign up.

Halik uses his love for photography to capture people, moments and issues that intrigue him. He currently runs one of the most popular Instagram accounts in Sri Lanka.

Thishya Weragoda, an Attorney at Law and a hobbyist photographer, added an important conclusion to the dialogue. As the last speaker, he focused on the privacy, ethics and law in photography. "Sometimes, even if I am legally entitled to take photos, it might not be ethical for me to do so, or it can be the other way around as well. As per the law, when you are in a public area you have all the rights to photograph anything, but whether you should, is another question. My rule of thumb in a situation like this is, if I don't like being photographed in a similar situation, I would not take that photo."

Thishya added valuable insights relating to ethics in photography: taking permission from the people to be photographed, using the photographs in different contexts and platforms, content manipulation etc. "Before taking a photograph, always ask yourself, 'Is this legal? Is this ethical?'. If you feel that there is an issue, please don't take that photograph. It can save you a lot of trouble at the end of the day."

The event concluded on a positive note, calling for young enthusiasts to take part in the upcoming Children in Focus competition, and to take an interest in using photography to build up a dialogue on the issues faced by different sectors of the society, especially children. At the end of the event, UNICEF launched their own Instagram marathon, named #CRCBaton - you can learn more about this in the coming weeks.

Misbah Sheikh, Chief of Communications at UNICEF Sri Lanka joined me for a short interview after the event. This is what she said: "UNICEF hosts this Y4C Dialogue because we are interested in having youth join us to talk about what's happening to children in Sri Lanka, celebrating the successes and also talking about some of the challenges in them realising their rights. We hope that young people who are here will use their networks to talk about Children's Rights. Especially today's session, was focused on using photos to tell stories and we really hope that we will get amateur Sri Lankan photographers, from children to adults, who will send in photographs on how they visualise Children's Rights here. "

All in all, UNICEF Sri Lanka and all the partners of this initiative are doing a commendable job in helping mobilise the youth community to speak up and take action on behalf of children. Today they hosted a successful precursor to a number of projects which are coming up. I will be posting about them frequently in the future. Stay tuned!

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