Embracing ‘Engaged Journalism’ to drive the meaningful message of sustainability

What creates an impactful image that can spark the message of positivity and hope among people? This is a question I often ask myself as a photo-editor…what moves people to take action? The answer even though it may seem deceptively simple is rather complex. It’s all about engagement and empathy, clicking a photograph simply to present a certain situation in front of the audiences is merely not enough, especially in this age of hyper-communication and digitalization. Photographers today need to go beyond simply presenting the problem, they need to engage their audiences and establish means of visual communication that are direct and not abstract. For instance, we found if we published images of polar bears on melting ice-caps, people were not necessarily moved as they didn’t think the problem was affecting them, whilst in reality climate crisis affects all. In order to drive home our message, we seek out images that have the potential to stir a conversation in people’s mind further generating engagement by highlighting the relatability factor. Telling authentic stories with a humanitarian angle through images that allow people to walk in the shoes of your subject thereby elevating emotions and accentuating that connectivity aspect is a recipe for meaning. Posing questions to your audiences such as “what if this was your child?” or “imagine being here!” are simple yet utterly powerful ways to not only incite a reaction but to invoke those deeper feelings that make an individual even consider taking an action…that’s where truly meaningful engaged photojournalism lies.

(TOP: Migrant Caravan: People helping one another escape extreme economic hardship travelling through Mexico. The hands reaching down to help fellow migrants aboard the truck is life affirming. Photo: Felix Marquez/AP). 

Offering solutions

Photography certainly acts as a catalyst to motivate action and inspire change, however a vital component of creating this broader conversation lies in offering solutions. As important as it is to engage people with thoughtfully captured images, it is also helpful to offer solutions to the problem to avoid being bearers of solely grim news. Photography as an art can induce emotion, endearment, and passion striking a chord with the audience. Finding new and original ways to reach people is the foundation of any good photograph especially in the context of sustainability. While the whole world has drawn attention towards the subject of sustainability, photographers can really dig deep into this arena with powerful visual communication to bring a unique but relatable perspective. ‘Moments that Matter’, an endeavor fronted by Canon truly highlights the value of sustainability by combining its elements into everything that we do today whether it is environmental, social or economic development and progress. The environmental impact created by our activities remains one of the high-points of discussion across industries and platforms globally but for those who truly understand this category well, it is evident that environmental sustainability is the priority. Understanding the impact of our actions on the environment, its delicate link with our planet’s bio-diversity as well its close association with healthy economies and flourishing societies.

Mastery of aesthetics and expression

Our aim through ‘Moments that Matter’ is to provide an opportunity to harness the power of visual storytelling and motivate meaningful change. We are looking for photographs that capture moments and make sense of a complex scene with well-crafted framing that masters the art of expression. While quality and originality certainly influence visual outcomes, a key ingredient is a photographer’s ability to connect to a story, gaining the trust and preserving the dignity of the people/situation they are documenting. In fact, many photographers actually spend days or weeks just comprehending an overall scenario, understanding the context and gaining trust of their subject before ever lifting their cameras to take a picture. And of course, having a good eye for aesthetics helps to set the context whilst doing justice to the situation at hand.

The art of identifying a good photo

My encounter with the world of photography began as a journalism student. I found my passion and skills lay in the creative arena of visual expression rather than verbal expression, so led by my talents rather than an aspiration to write I entered the world of photography. In my experience, learning the art of seeing, evaluating and identifying a good image is as important as the craft of photography itself. What’s fascinating is that as a photo editor your talents are different to those of a photographer – who truth be told, are often too close to their work to be able to see it objectively. As a photo-editor, you view the work through the eyes of a reader understanding the dynamics of the image with the overall story much like a jigsaw puzzle, while the photographer sees only a part, the editor’s role is to assemble the whole puzzle.

The painter constructs, the photographer discloses

The power of photojournalism in sparking a positive change is undeniable and as such photographers have a great responsibility that comes with this power and so must industry leaders. Competitions like ‘Moments that Matter’ provide an opportunity for photographers to evaluate and submit their work which is then further amplified by editors who will be keen to place their stories in publications around the globe. So what may start as a mere photograph in one part for the world may very well become the topic of discussion for the entire world tomorrow, that’s the power of photography. The point of this award is to highlight meaningful images that can spark the passion for sustainability and call people to action.

(Submit your entries here. Register here for Masterclass webinar with Fiona Shields).


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