Photography as an Act of Advocacy
"Hope" is one of the photos featured in a Camden, N.J. Witnesses to Hunger exhibit held at a local gallery on Sept. 19, 2013. Of the work, photographer and Witnesses advocate Nia T writes, "'Hunger lives here and so does hope.' I like that saying. That’s something. That’s deep. It means that they’re helping. They’re helping the environment. They’re helping the community." (Photo by Nia T/Witnesses to Hunger)
Denver resident Robin Dickinson and her family rely on two main sources for food: their garden and their SNAP benefits. In November, when across-the-board cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program took effect, Dickinson also saw her garden's yield diminish because of frost. Dickinson took a picture of one of her withered tomato plants; the shot is included in the photo project "Hunger Through My Lens," sponsored by Hunger Free Colorado.
"It seemed especially cruel that SNAP benefits were cut at the same time winter frost killed off the last of our tomatoes," Dickinson wrote in the photo’s caption.
The "Hunger Through My Lens" project gives cameras to SNAP recipients and asks them to document their experiences with hunger. The photos drive home the importance of anti-hunger efforts in ways that statistics often can't: it's one thing to hear about food deserts, but quite another to see one woman's photo collage of beautiful bananas in a grocery store in an affluent neighborhood juxtaposed with bruised, expensive produce at a corner bodega. "Hunger Through My Lens" has received quite a bit of media attention lately, but it isn't the first program of its kind.
Barbie Izquierdo, whose story was featured in the documentary A Place at the Table and Bread for the World's 2013 Offering of Letters, became engaged in anti-hunger work through Drexel University’s Witnesses to Hunger program. Izquierdo was given a cell phone with a camera, and asked to document her life through photos of the hunger and poverty in her Philadelphia neighborhood. Izquierdo is a nationally recognized speaker on hunger, lobbies on Capitol Hill in support of anti-hunger programs, and has reached millions through her documentary appearance, but her path to advocacy started, in part, with those photos.
Last year, at a time when the SNAP program was facing especially devastating cuts, the Witnesses program in Camden, N.J., held a gallery show to display some of the photographs taken by project participants. Bread for the World organizer Larry Hollar wrote about the participatory advocacy project and the photos on display, and how they conveyed not defeat at that crucial time, but hope for a world without hunger.
This month, in observance of National Nutrition Month, Feeding America is calling on people to show their support for nutrition through photography—it's holding a Photo-A-Day challenge. Feeding America is asking participants to snap a pic each day, based on a different words or phrase ("hungry," "fresh," "on a budget") and share those photos on social media sites. It's yet another way for people who care about ending hunger and malnutrition—and, in some cases, are dealing with hunger and malnutrition themselves—to use the power of the lens to bring attention to these important issues.
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