Activism is not a term I often use to describe my photography, yet it is something I do subtly with a camera.
Activism is more than carrying signs in protest, shouting or even writing to your congressman or other elected officials. Expressing how you see a subject can take many forms and shapes—from public demonstrations to business boycotts.
Photographs can also shout an injustice or whisper support of an idea or ideal.
Activism can be what we choose to do or not do. Ansel Adams, a friend of the environment, once refused a request to make a portrait of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan because he disagreed with Reagan’s environmental policies.
Norman Rockwell’s painting of the installation of a rooftop antenna on a 1949 Saturday Evening Post cover hinted at a new religion sweeping America. Today, he might have painted the internet as our new religion.
Writers and artists have always used their voices to draw attention to issues.
I was raised to believe the word activism had a dark, negative connotation. A child of the ’60s, I associated it with burning bras or draft cards in protest—never of capturing and sharing scenes of love and hope. It took me decades to realize I was an activist, though my actions were subtle, more advocacy than angry protest.
After reviewing my portfolio years ago, an editor said, “You are a visual commentator.”
I had never thought about it, but I think she was right.
Some have even said my pictures are gentle sermons.
Mine is a deliberate choice. I choose to focus on and celebrate the lovely fruit of the human spirit—optimism over despair. I believe good begets good. In my pictures, I hope others see what I see and feel. I call this having a point of view, but it is also a form of activism.
That said, there are things that trouble me—things I am inclined to point my camera at: waste of resources, pollution, acts of selfishness or unkindness, oppression and exploitation of the poor by the wealthy, and the crushing of small independent businesses by large, heartless corporations.
Make two photographs that speak without words, that cause someone to pause and consider the meaning—the point of the pictures.
The first should reveal something you wish to encourage or celebrate. The second should be of something that troubles your spirit and you would like to see changed.
In other words, first use your camera to shine a light on something lovely, then turn that healing light on something dark and troubling.
Email your best image with caption information to GPH@pur.coop. We may share the best submissions on our website and social media channels.