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?

The Games Makers of the Olympics

We don’t see them on the television. We don’t hear about the work they do. They are the 70,000 volunteers at the Olympics, who quietly make the games happen. The odd jobs they perform hold everything together.

Volunteers direct and welcome people to the right venue, so they don’t miss that key vault that wins the Women’s team gymnastics event, or the final stretch and wall touch for the heart pounding Men’s 4x100m freestyle relay in swimming. Volunteers transport athletes where they need to go, allowing them to focus on their sport rather than worry about where they need to be. They work with the tech teams to bring you as quick and accurate results as possible on your favorite events.

Does the Olympic planning committee in London comprehend the value of volunteers . . . take them seriously? I’d say yes, since they began recruitment back in September of 2010. Over 240,000 people applied to volunteer from the UK and around the globe. So, if you’re interested in volunteering at any of the future games, I suggest you apply early. I’d imagine language skills wouldn’t hurt, either.

They even have a “Young Games Makers” program for 16-18 year-olds (about 2,000 volunteers this Olympics) who get to do things like rake the sand on the beach volleyball courts. (Sounds very Zen.) Certainly couldn’t hurt the high school resume: volunteering for the Olympics and getting a chance to build team working and communications skills. It could also build your teen’s confidence to know they are worthwhile to take part in something like this.

I think it would be wonderful to go to the Olympics, but when you volunteer, you’re actually part of a team. We all want to be part of something greater than ourselves, don’t we? Participating in the Olympics in even a small way must be a heady experience. To be part of a team putting on the biggest sporting event in the world? Awesome.

Volunteers were first used in the Olympic Games held in London in 1948 and have been ever since. They’ve become an integral part of the Summer and Winter and Paralympic Games. And now, we’re back in London where it started.

Do you know anyone who has volunteered at the Olympics? I’d love to hear their/your experiences. And as an aside, what are your favorite events?

If you’ve ever planned a big event, you know the value of volunteers. How have volunteers helped make your important days and events turn out well? 

5 Ways The Publishing Community Promotes Good Causes and Can Simultaneously Help the Aspiring Writer

In the process of profiling literary agents who represent the kind of book I have written, (literary fiction with a commercial bent), I noticed how many agents, editors and publishing organizations promote good causes. Considering I write a good bit about volunteerism and am an aspiring novelist, there could hardly be a better combo for me.

Online Auctions: Online auctions such as Brenda Novak’s Auction for the Cure for Diabetes (held in May) offer bidding opportunities that run the gamut…from travel packages to jewelry, but what is unusual about this particular auction is the section for writers. Brenda Novak is a New York Times Bestselling author and knows a lot of people in the publishing industry. More than 120 literary agents and editors offered, pro bono, to do a range of manuscript evaluations for the cause.

For an aspiring author, it is a brilliant win-win scenario: support diabetes research and…1) get your work in front of participating, first-class literary agents, editors and other industry professionals, 2) get to the top of the slush pile, and 3) receive that precious, but so-hard-to-get feedback. This year, the auction raised over $300,000. Pretty impressive.

Another aspect of this win-win opportunity is what it says about the caliber of agent or editor. These are people who have agreed to offer their services pro bono for a cause. I’d say that’s a nice indicator of the kind of agent I’d like to have promoting my career.

Brenda Novak’s auction is an annual event, but also, there are situation-specific ones such as for the Japanese disaster. In March, (Red Cross month), a group of writers conducted the Writers for the Red Cross auction that benefitted a local Red Cross chapter as well as the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. In their FAQ, they mention ‘Why writers?’ I love their reason for involvement besides raising funds… “Writers share a commitment to community by bringing people together through their stories.” I really hope my work can do that someday. For this kind of auction, you’ll need to keep an eye out. Unfortunately, with all the natural disasters occurring in the world, you will likely have ample opportunity.

Also, on Ebay, literary agent, Irene Goodman, auctions critiques of partial manuscripts at the start of every month. All proceeds go directly to the Deafness Research Foundation, Hope for Vision, and Foundation Fighting Blindness. Her son, 23, has Usher Syndrome, which is a genetic condition that causes progressive loss of both vision and hearing.

Proceeds donation: This is ‘Cause marketing’, which I described in detail in my post ‘Shopping Incentives’ last November. On June 7th, (sorry, I’m late on this), F+ W Media, Inc., the parent company of Writer’s Digest, decided that 50% of all profits made on that specific day from their Writer’s Digest shop (that sells books, offers webinars and a whole slew of writing classes), would be donated to the Red Cross for relief efforts regarding the recent tornados that cut a deadly swath across our country. In early spring they did the same to raise funds for the Japanese disaster.

Sponsorship: Organizations such as Publishers Weekly, Writers Digest and RT Book Review Magazine were co-sponsors for the Brenda Novak’s Online Auction for the Cure for Diabetes.

Awareness Promotion: It was from the blog of literary agent, Kristin Nelson, that I first learned of the online auction for the cure for diabetes. (I highly recommend her blog to anyone trying to get published. Lots of good stuff there). Research for diabetes is a cause close to her heart, so she promotes awareness of it. Agents generate a lot of traffic on their sites and can really help get the word out. Additionally, writers looking for an agent can gain insight into what particular subjects might be of special interest to them. Another example is a blog post by agent, Jenny Bent, to promote awareness of Down Syndrome. She supports Reece’s Rainbow, which facilitates international adoption of children with Down Syndrome.

Individual Calls to Action: Literary agent turned author, Nathan Bransford, promotes volunteerism, in general, and expanding your horizons. He went on a volunteer trip that changed his life. (I’m not the only one who had this happen.) Here…he says it best, himself,

“…remember when I went to Peru on a volunteer vacation and it changed my life? Well! You have this opportunity too! Please visit Volunteer Journals at Travelocity, and all you have to do is enter a video for a chance to win a volunteer vacation. People, voluntourism is the greatest thing ever. Enter! Enter! Enter!!”

Voluntourism (a.k.a. volunteer vacations) is a subject that deserves a whole series of posts. And I have a great place to start. My sister-in-law just returned from one in Africa on a game reserve. That’s up next!

Haiti Volunteer Slapped with $35,000 phone bill

Volunteering can provide many rewards—but some, you may not want. American aid worker, Kerfye Pierre was rewarded for her service in Haiti during the aftermath of the devastating earthquake with a whopper of a phone bill—$34,872.82 to be exact. She thought T-Mobile’s offer to waive service fees for volunteers included the whole package. BUT, it was only voice, not text or data.

This brings up a couple of troublesome issues.

1) It’s a disaster setting. By definition, things are not functioning regularly. As ridiculous as it may sound, people tend to forget that. Logistics and communications are huge variables. Kerfye says that text messages would go through, but it was much harder to get through with voice. Hence, she chose the text route and sending messages to family and friends through her Facebook page.

2) As of right now, mobile phone companies can just sit back and let you rack up the costs as you text your merry way into severe debt.

Fortunately, the Federal Communication Commission is proposing new rules that will prevent ‘bill shock’ like this—possibly forcing mobile phone companies to send alerts, letting you know when you’re incurring extra charges. As of now, T-Mobile has dropped Kerfye Pierre’s bill down to $5,000. How nice of them. The company said most people were aware of the parameters. Of course! She should’ve taken the time to read the terms and conditions. I mean, all she was doing was setting up day camps for kids and distributing water after a disaster where over 220,000 people had died. She certainly could’ve done a little night reading by flashlight.

Have you ever had an experience where you’ve tried to do something good and received a totally unexpected backlash?