Making sense of the world through photography

© UNICEF/UN0342045/Farber/Getty Images

Information has never been more accessible than it is today. With just a few clicks, I can find out just about anything on any subject of my choosing. With just the press of a button, I can access 24-hour news. While this certainly has its benefits (I cannot imagine having to write an essay on epistemology without the aid of the internet), I have come to realize that for many people, this has at least one big downside. 

In a time when we are constantly bombarded with general information, facts, and figures, people have become numb to some of the most pressing issues humanity is still trying to contend with.

Of course, I am guilty of this myself. It is easy to shrug off the headline that pops up on my lock screen saying the Earth is projected to warm 3.2° C by the century's end when concepts like this can be difficult to intuitively conceptualize.

When we should all be scrambling to do our part to solve these issues of global significance - climate change, the violation of human rights, the resurgence of authoritarianism, etc.- many of us feel unmoved. Rather than complacency, however, I believe this is simply a result of our inability to properly process the information thrown at us, and while this may not be a revolutionary idea, I think it is important to highlight just what a difference being able to properly understand information - statistical or not - is. 

In September I was invited to UNICEF in New York City to help motivate member states to reaffirm their commitment to the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. During my visit to UNICEF, I was told that during 2018, 3,758 children had been killed in areas of conflict around the world. When I recently recounted this figure in a school assembly during the lead up to World Children's Day, I felt the significance of this number was lost on my audience. If I am being honest, it may have been somewhat lost on me when I first heard it, It was not until I visited an exhibit on the north lawn of the UN when this number really sank in.

A field of thousands of blue backpacks
An exhibit on the north lawn of the UN for the children killed in zones of conflict in 2018

Walking among these backpacks, which unmistakably resemble gravestones and represent individual children killed in zones of conflict during 2018, I felt a sense of loss that I could not feel from a statistic alone; the backpacks allowed me to truly understand this information

Of course, the assembly audience at school could not be there to experience the exhibit but the above photo seemed to have the same effect on them as walking among the backpacks had for me.

This is the power of photography, and believe it represents the best way to fully understand the significance of the information we read. 

Yet another example of the power of photography is a photo taken at the US Mexico Border in November 2018.

A mother and her children flee the US border after a migrant caravan is hit by tear gas
I decided I was no longer going to sit idle and that I wanted to do something constructive to help end this crisis

This was the photo that prompted me to do something about the ongoing crisis on the US-Mexico Border. I decided I was no longer going to sit idle and that I wanted to do something constructive to help end this crisis. Since then, I have embarked on a mission to compile a book of photos of migrants coming to the United States in an effort to humanize them and bring this issue to the attention of more people in the same impactful way it was brought to me.

A girl waits in line with her family at the Greyhound bus stop in El Paso, Texas
A girl waits in line with her family at the Greyhound bus stop in El Paso, Texas

Over the past year, I have come to understand just how powerful simple photography can be. I have felt it firsthand with the border crisis and seen its effect on others. At a time when we are constantly assaulted by facts and figures, the magnitude of the issues that really matter can be lost on us. I want to encourage everybody to explore humanity's most pressing issues through the lens of photography. Like me, you might find yourself surprised by the new perspective it might bring to you. 

United States of America