I wish to point you to an entry that Eliza Gregory wrote over at A Developing Story. She begins with the question, “should photographers be paid to work for NGOs?” and ends with a personal reflection of her approach to working with NGOs, as a photographer.
I repeatedly speak of not taking our role as advocates for granted. I do this so much that even I find my case tedious. So imagine how excited I get when I find others to do the preaching for me, and in more subtle ways at that! What I appreciate about Gregory’s piece is its honesty, namely, about the messiness of organizing. It captures the moments where a photographer’s opportunities, needs and interests meet their aspirations for advocacy and humanitarian work, or for fairer, more diffuse and innovative forms of media…but also where they differ, diverge, and clash. She doesn’t have a stake in her work—she has many. Gregory ends the post by giving us a glimpse of her experience in negotiating them, describing her approach and what she gains from taking it:
In my own photography, I take a different approach all together. As someone who fits in no conventional categories as a photographer, I actually create long-term partnerships with nonprofit organizations, and I fundraise on behalf of myself and the organization.
The benefit to me is that the organization doesn’t control me, or my images, or how I tell the story I want to tell. However, I do want their collaboration, so part of our relationship or partnership agreement is to allow them to influence the project. That ends up benefiting me as well—I learn about the issue I’m covering by communicating effectively with the organization, and I’m forced to think more carefully about the impact my work has on the individuals I photograph.
Of course, NGOs have their own set of needs, interests, and aspirations that may not align with those of the photographers. Gregory has discussed the nuances of the collaboration in depth here.
Although Gregory writes from her position as a photographer, I think her experience reflects those of ours as humanitarian workers. Because after all, being a humanitarian does not exempt us from the messiness of being human.