Frequently Asked by Photojournalists #3:
There comes a time in every photojournalist’s journey when the desire to quantify one’s impact is overwhelming. As a photojournalist who engages in concerned photography, naturally, it follows that one wants to know if the work is helping make the public socially and politically aware. That learning curve, from making eye-catching imagery to making imagery that instigates real change, is a steep one. So what is the tipping point? Summary: partnerships. Below are two questions Ed frequently receives on the topic.
Do you feel like your photographs have impacted society in any way? If so, how?
ED KASHI: This is a very big question and one that is generally hard to quantify, but I can certainly sense a greater than usual impact from particular projects I’ve worked on. The constant in all of the following examples, related to successfully raising awareness about a subject, was that the work was done not by me alone or by my images alone. It required collaboration with the media, academia, activists, NGOs, governments and even private companies sometimes.
“Aging in America” and the two films about my father-in-law living and dying in our home (“The Sandwich Generation” and “Living Your Subjects”) have certainly touched many people. That work has cumulatively reached millions of people at this point. These bodies of work were not only given kick-starts, but marathon legs after the initial exposure by utilizing academia, particularly in social work, geriatric, nursing and care giving professions. My project on the Niger Delta has similarly reached many people by continuing to be sited by institutions, NGOs, academia and media to explain the issues of oil, environment, conflict and development associated with energy resource exploitation. Finally, my work on the Kurds, which began in 1991 with the help of National Geographic, had an extended reach with the help of advocates and activists in the UK, Germany and Kurdistan, subsequently impacting the perceptions and understanding of the Kurdish people, particularly in the West.
Do you think photography alone has enough influence to change opinions of the public?
ED KASHI: I absolutely know that photography has enough influence to change public opinions, but only in rare instances and with less frequency. I see imagery as playing a vital role in how people learn about the world, both close to home and far away. However, as media transforms, as the web increasingly plays a role in how we consume and contextualize images, and as video becomes more and more prominent, I fear that still photography has lost and will continue to lose its impact. That is not because photography is inherently less powerful but that it just can’t compete with video in so many ways.