When did photography become just a job?
Have you ever asked yourself this question during the dark hours of morning when you’re in a drowsy dream state? Do you want to tap into the power of personal projects, using a camera as your voice? You’re not alone. Many creative people who turn their passion into a profession ask themselves this same soul-searching question.
Ji Lee, former creative director at Google Creative Lab, summed up this frustration: “I really wanted to not only think about ideas but also make something happen!” For photographers, making something happen means using a camera as your voice.
To explore the power of personal projects, The Photo Life is publishing a series of posts from photographers who have embraced risk and pursued long-term personal projects.
Rebecca Kiger knows exactly how terrifying it can be to speak your truth privately, much less openly to the world. But just as surely, she knows two other things: First, it’s vitally important to face those fears. And second, using a camera as your voice is a powerful way to create change and awareness.
She is a survivor of sexual assault, and while she has never spoken publicly about this before, she has been stirred to action by the international conversation about sexual attacks on women in India in public places, as well as similar discussions closer to home.
Just 30 minutes from where Rebecca lives in West Virginia is the town of Steubenville, Ohio. That town is under an international media spotlight too, the result of the rape of a 16-year-old girl who was unconscious, from intoxication and possibly involuntarily drugged, at a party. Heightening the outcry are the facts that the alleged perpetrators and witnesses posted photos and videos of the rape online, and that the police investigation seems less than aggressive – perhaps because those implicated are members of the town’s high school football team, whose reputation underlies the town’s civic pride.
“It’s a theme that’s close to home personally and also close to home in proximity,” Rebecca says.
At a rally to demand justice for the attack and honesty about the troubling official response, she found startling parallels to the cultural silence around sexual violence.
“I was the only woman photographer that day at that rally,” Rebecca recalls. And worse, “at the rally itself, the conversation was dominated by men.” There was a large all-male police presence from the sheriff’s office. And then there was a group of members of the Anonymous collective, which is mostly men who were wearing the Guy Fawkes mask that has become a symbol of that group’s omnipresence.
So in an effort to give women a safe space, there were many men, “half of them with guns and the other half masked and hidden,” Rebecca says. She starkly showed this disconnection in her images from the rally.
In perhaps the cruelest irony, she speaks of learning that women who work and volunteer at a local rape-crisis center near Steubenville were encouraged not to attend a gathering in a public space, because it might be dangerous.
But even amid that profoundly unsettled environment, she – and her camera – saw positive energy and courage. “Women did get up and they spoke. They were telling their rape stories and I had never seen that before.”
It’s a healing process that Rebecca knows she needs. She has already begun dealing with her memories, encountering the fact that, like many survivors, beyond the trauma of the assaults themselves, her requests for help, justice, and acknowledgement were sometimes ignored, belittled, and denied. Attending the rally was a way for her to bear witness to her own pain, as well as to provide support for others who have suffered similarly.
A key part of healing is finding her own voice and speaking up to let others know they are not alone. “It happened to me and it wounded me and I have some healing to do around it and it happens to so many people,” she says.
There’s a reclamation of her own strength and power at work: “Because that’s part of my life, how will I contribute to the undoing of it?” she demands, as much of herself as of anyone else. “How can my experience turn into change that prevents this in the future?”
She has a mantra that keeps her focused: “Silence is sexual abuse’s best friend. They’re life partners.” She’s determined to break that silence, for herself, and for others, for good.
Rebecca knows this takes work, but it also promises rewards: “Any time I’ve taken a risk and done personal work I’ve gotten responses immediately.”
She urges photographers – and anyone – dealing with pain and trauma to “follow your gut. Follow your internal longings and curiosities. They’re valuable. They’re not just valuable to you, they’re valuable to other people because there’s an echo back.”
So how do you start using a cameras as your voice?
First, you need a subject. What challenges you? What inspires you? What enrages you? Seek stories that make you feel something, preferably something personal. The more invested you are in a project, the better it will be.
Speaking of investment, how will you fund your project? Whether you self-fund, or pursue outside funding, here are resources to guide you:
- Kickstarter: the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects, Kickstarter is a tool to crowd-fund creative projects. There are pro’s and con’s to using Kickstarter to raise funds, which you can learn all about HERE.
- Emphas.is: specifically focused on visual journalism, Emphas.is also enable photographers to crowd-fund their projects, in exchange for your participation and communication with your “backers.”
- Self-Assignment: an inspiring platform for photographers to share their personal projects and testimonials about why they enjoy creating independent work.
- BURN Magazine: acclaimed Magnum photojournalist David Alan Harvey created this online magazine and workshop series to showcase his personal work and support colleagues, fans and followers as they create their own work.
- Grants from various groups, companies and organizations are available for photographers seeking funding.
My seven year-old daughter says that I’m her “hero”, that I’m “the best mommy and best photographer” ever. In her mind, I cook a mean dinner. I marvel at her innocence and generosity. I will add that I’m happiest when I’m dancing, singing, and connecting with friends and strangers alike. It is no secret that photography is a passport and excuse to explore and satisfy curiosities about life. The challenge then is adopting a lyrical perspective and voice. I hope the work I create prompts conversation, encourages honesty and reflection, but most importantly takes us back to the heart of all matters – LOVE.