Though most of may view social media as primarily social — a way to keep up with friends and professional contacts — we’ve all witnessed its power to relay stories we would have never heard otherwise. Tools like Twitter and Facebook fundamentally changed how we experienced events like the ’09 “Twitter Revolution” in Iran, or the more recent “Arab Spring”… because we were able to read, hear, and see stories that professional media outlets would’ve missed. The affordability of the means to produce media provides many of us with the chance to tell these kinds of stories… and to show others our own unique perspective on the world around us.
Does this broader ability to share media we create have the power to change the world? Ryan Ansin thinks so. As a photographer and videographer for numerous non-profit groups working around the world, Ryan saw from a young age the power that recorded images can have on motivating people to help those in need. It occurred to him, though, that the still and moving images from places like Vietnam, Cambodia, and even parts of the United States might be even more powerful if they didn’t come from visiting professionals, but rather from the people living their lives in these places, and experiencing the challenges of poverty, social unrest, and environmental degradation.
In 2010, Ryan changed the strategy of the company he’d founded in 2003: Every Personal Has a Story (EPHAS) Productions became a non-profit dedicated to giving people the tools to tell those stories. Specifically, EPHAS aims “to educate people in developing countries in media arts so they can self-document the life and transformation in their communities.”
A social enterprise for empowering young storytellers
Approaching his mission with the mindset of a tech entrepreneur, Ryan and the team he recruited have worked to build a replicable platform that allows for the creation, collection, distribution, and sale of photos taken by children in locations where the organization has chosen to work. The children aren’t just handed cameras and sent on their way, though: the organization provides all of the necessary tools (including cameras, memory cards, printers, paper, solar chargers, and other needed equipment), and has created a two-week curriculum to train students in the use of the camera, and even basic photographic composition. The organization also trains a local teacher in the curriculum so that new citizen photographers can learn their skills without having an EPHAS member present.
Once the kids start sending in their photos (currently over 300 a week), EPHAS handles the details of sorting, archiving, and otherwise getting them ready for sale. This is where the young photographers are able to contribute to their communities: a portion of the sales price of each photograph goes back to an organization working in the community. In Rwanda, for instance, EPHAS supports ONE4THREE.org, which works to ensure a consistent supply of potable water for the Karambi/Gitwe community. In Santiago, Dominican Republic, the group works with Youth Rising, “a program dedicated to teaching leadership skills to young people as they participate in fun arts and athletic activities.”
So, what kind of photographs come out of this effort? That’s one above… head over to the following pages (links below) to see more examples of the photographs taken by EPHAS’ students, along with the stories these images represent (as told by EPHAS staff). Each of these photos is available for purchase in the EPHAS gallery.
Story for top photograph: Joseph Enoise, 18 years old, captured this image in Fonds Parisien, Haiti, a few short miles away from the border of the Dominican Republic. Étang Saumâtre, the largest lake in Haiti has been steadily rising for the past six years due to a blocked tributary, forcing locals to abandon these houses and rebuild less permanent structures further away from the water. Enoise lives two kilometers away from the lake at what is now called Miracle Village with his family.
Guillaume Garinson, 14 years old, took this photograph during the political riots in Port au Prince, Haiti on December 8th, 2010. EPHAS had implemented programs in their exclusively deaf tent city at Delmas 2 in October and November and this is one of the main reasons why we are needed. Wherever we teach we leave cameras with responsible parties and send trained instructors to continue our curriculum. Shooting the before and after of such catastrophes that the media is unable to capture, showing greater reality to the world is an amazing gift from our students.
This photograph was taken in Prey Veng, Cambodia at Veterans International’s rehabilitation center by Kim Samphors, 9-years-old. Kim had recently undergone a second surgery for her below the knee amputation. She took this photograph from her wheelchair of her own prosthetic being adjusted.
Kong Sela, 17 years old, took this photograph at Veterans International’s Prey Veng center to represent beauty. After the first few exercises, Kong felt that we had not focused enough on color and so introduced flowers, mirrors, and bright clothes to remedy the situation.
Kahiliti Gekimana, 14 years old, took this photograph of Franci Uwimpuhwe on our second day of teaching at the Karambi Secondary School in Rwanda. After the word spread of our photography program, everyone in the 700-person school wanted to be a part of it. Students would abandon their classrooms to look into ours from the outside. As much as we wanted to work with everyone it was impossible. At times, like when this photo was taken, there would be well over one hundred kids surrounding our classroom and we could not leave because the photographers would be swarmed. This photo shows Franci looking out over her peers. Eventually, everyone in that school will go through the program.
This photo was taken by Luis David, 14 years old, in Santiago, Dominican Republic, during our inaugural workshop in that country. Students were asked to find contrasting colors during this assignment while we learned the basics.