Photographer Expands Her Skill Set In A Big Way

Weddings must be fun to photograph—people clinking glasses, wearing fluttery silk, and holding hands. Most people will happily pose for the camera and grin, but plenty of beautiful flowers and candles are conveniently available to soften even the countenance of the grimmest great aunt.

But what about a different sort of assignment—when you’re asked to capture something hidden in the shadows that has nothing to do with a happy event?

One of my fellow A21 Campaigners found herself facing this challenge not long ago. Caroline Howard is a wedding photographer here in Charleston, SC, who recently created a photographic series for The A21 Campaign-East Coast’s: BE HER FREEDOM fundraising/human trafficking awareness event this past June. (She was also in charge of the entire design of the art installation used to portray a victim’s journey from darkness to light, but that I’ll save for a separate post.)

Her evocative series attempts to convey even a small portion of the despair and deep sense of isolation a human trafficking victim may suffer.

I decided to go interview style today.

Me: How difficult was it switching from photographing weddings to images representing the darkness of human trafficking? What kinds of challenges did you face?

Caroline: It was definitely a challenge to switch from shooting weddings to shooting a darker subject, not to mention that everything I knew about journalism was stripped away; I had to create those feelings of darkness, heaviness and oppression.

Me: Do you think this experience helped you grow as a photographer? In what ways?

Caroline: Before this series, I had never shot personal work. If I photographed someone that wasn’t a paying client, there was a work-driven motive behind it, typically to build my portfolio. Even though this was for a specific event, I had never (in almost six years of being in photography) shot something that was putting myself out there, my aesthetic, putting my vision into a medium of art. Shooting this series gave me the affirmation that it’s okay to produce work, produce art, without a motive. Although I’ve transitioned back into wedding mode with the approach of fall wedding season, I’m actually working on another project just because. It’s a nice feeling.

Me: Any particular words of wisdom or advice for other photographers out there who might be interested in volunteering their services for a cause? How to go about it?

Caroline: The biggest thing I’ve realized is to be proactive. There is a surprising amount of people who want to get involved, but we need people with specific ideas—people, and artists, who can step forward and say ‘Not only am I willing and interested in getting involved, but I have some ideas on how I could make it happen. This is an idea I have.’ Because when it comes down to it, organizations and groups are excited and willing to take on talented volunteers such as photographers because it’s something not everyone can do. But they may need some ideas on how best to utilize the talent of a skilled individual.

I am so thankful to Caroline for the interview and for the opportunity to show off her incredibly moving photographs. Please visit her photography website at CarolineRO to see more of Caroline’s amazing work. I’d also like to thank Meryl over at Recovery Thru My Lens for sparking the idea for this post by asking how a photographer might volunteer.

What unexpected opportunities have come your way via volunteering? What are some talents you might offer up? What might you present to a nonprofit?


27 comments on “Photographer Expands Her Skill Set In A Big Way

  1. Marney… thank you for sharing… for raising the awareness of what is happening out in the world, in our own backyard, to these women. Each photograph is a book in intself and Caroline Howard did an excellent job of capturing that untold story on film. Actually, brought me to tears. Bless you, Marney, for the work you do!

  2. Marney,
    This post is so powerful — and displays how we can all use our talents to be a voice for others who have no voice.

  3. Caroline sure is a talented photographer. I’m certain it was challenging to depict such a horrific crime, but she did it accurately and tastefully. It’s amazing how various forms of art can really bring impact.

  4. This is a wonderful post on many levels, Marney. You ask some questions that I’ve been asking myself lately. I volunteer a lot, but in familiar and ‘safe’ ways. Might be time to stretch. Thanks for the challenge, Judy

    • It all matters, Judy. But I know what you mean about it being “time to stretch”. Even with really dark and daunting issues like human trafficking, I think it’s good to start out simple and gradually find your way into deeper involvement, if you find your heart’s in it. That way, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming a task. Also, when you concentrate on helping ONE, it’s not so immobilizing as the idea that there are 27 million like her out there. One at a time. One step and then another, right?

  5. Beautiful photography, Marney. Thank you for sharing.

    One obstacle that I come up against time and time again is hesitation and uncertainly over how much to engage with the homeless. I LOVE serving opportunities where we get to engage and socialize with the community; but often times they are not capable of interacting and I feel silly of frightened when they respond in a manner less than normal. This is more about me, my issue, but still God is teaching me that serving doesn’t always mean I have to actually talk. He is bigger than my voice.

    Hope you’re well,

    • Hey Cara, first off….I hope you’re feeling better!

      I don’t have a lot of experience in this area, but if you can talk with someone who volunteers with the homeless regularly, they may be able to give you advice on how to best manage your expectations and handle situations should they arise. Have you read Same Kind of Different As Me? Wonderful book. I think you’d like it.

      A few years ago, my small group did a T-shirt art project with the women of the local homeless shelter. I was blown away that some of them showed up with sketches already drawn as to how they were going to decorate their shirts. Again, another reasons why the arts are so important. They can reach people in other ways.

  6. In answer to some of your questions…I believe that along with what you would normally think, unexpected opportunities to volunteer can happen right now and can be over in just a few seconds–you never know what impact holding a door open or offering a greeting to a person in need may have in their long or short term–it may be just what they need to enable them to have a huge impact on many others later in that day. An occasion to volunteer can last for years or just a few seconds. It can involve a truly specialized skill (neurosurgeon) or your “skill” may be that you can fog a mirror and have a free minute. I think we should make specific plans to volunteer for a specific cause along with being on the “short term lookout” all day, every day!

    • Love the “you can fog a mirror”. Thanks for making me laugh. You’re right; we should be on the look out for long-term opportunities as well as ones that just come up. Not easy….but definitely what I want to strive for.

  7. How aptly the photographer captures the pain, desolation and horrific conditions in which these girls are thrust. It is enraging to think of what they endure.


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