Why is Documentary photography so important for charities?


The short-lived killing spree, which left between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people dead, was the culmination of longstanding ethnic competition and tensions between the minority Tutsi and

the majority Hutus. The Rwandan Village of Nyamikanba in the province of Umutara didn't escape the massacre. 

Uwimbabazi Beneconcille, who belongs to the Mutwa ethic group were excluded from Rwandan village society after the genocide. But after her countries sucessful national unity and reconciliation

policy, Beneconcille as now been accepted back into village life.


Oxfam- Rwandan


Every charity organisation, whether associated with animal rehabilitation, teenage homelessness, educational or health issues right through to large international NGO's, realise that their charity or foundation's message will resonate more profoundly with their audiences through the use of enduring and empowering photography. Visual storytelling is one of the most potent ways of getting your organisation's message across. 
By utilising compelling and dynamic visual storytelling on critical environmental and other social issues, storytelling practices amplify the voices of the under-represented, from every walk of life. We all love stories; stories help us understand each other on a more fundamental level, they bring us closer to people, communities and others, outside of our collective understanding.
In most cases, and especially for charities, an image needs a story, and a story needs an image. 
'Humans of New York' is an excellent example of this collaboration. The two principles go together perfectly, words and pictures complementing each other making for a fascinating insight into this great project, I'd wish I'd come up with this idea myself, I love this concept. 

Through photography, you get an immediate impact from looking at emotive or delicate images, and it only takes a split-second. That’s hugely powerful. For charities, images allow for that connection between your subject and your audience, the stronger the picture, the more likely the viewer will click or read through and maybe donate to that particular cause, this also helps to humanise your organisation. By hiring good photographers; photographers who have an understanding and who believe in your charities ethos and message, this will allow your brand to grow in the direction you're looking to move towards or further establish the core spirit and essence of your organisation. This applies to all charities,  foundations, associations no matter the what size you may be.  
Because of the rise in stock imagery, the public has become so immune to these professionally over polished looking photographs, some even being used on several different sites and platforms at the same time. Yet if you haven't seen a particular stock image before, one tends to feel as if you have seen it somewhere else. Your message will then have the effect of blending into the noise if you’re using stock images. 
Another big mistake that some organisations employ with their photographs is to use older images which haven't been used before from a particular photo shoot, maybe three or four years previously, or even longer. You need to keep your images updated, even if you can't afford a professional photographer, go out yourself and take a series of new pictures. 


Today's audiences are much more media-savvy and so switched-on; they'll know if something doesn't look quite right. And speaking of today's constant online social presence, having a good photographer work with you from time to time, can help your online visibility. Sharing your images on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will without a doubt, help your charity gain new followers and ultimately new members, by posting the right targeted content, especially content that's engaging, informative and interesting. Remember, you can't share stock images, you need authentic imagery that's in-line with your companies brand. With social media, as it is today, it's so easy to get your images out there, to millions of new people, people who you can connect with, and on a very, very deep level. 
Photography is a currency that if used correctly can pay dividends for your charity later down the line.

What is true is that we want to see and read about peoples stories, events and accounts of other peoples lives through pictures, whether it's from somewhere in the UK or halfway across the world. If you can communicate your message through imagery that elicits attention, and drawing in the viewer with good photography that connects with those who might need charity assistance. 

Another way of looking, and I feel another step in the right direction, is to bring in humour, both insightful and creatively, without over-simplifying the problems and by showing the structural reasons behind your issues is a great way forward. “Humour is universal". Psychologist Nathalie Nahai believes that if a charity creates stories that aim to grab peoples attention, the public will then draw similarities with their own lives. They can attempt to relate to something that seems genuine. Nahai adds, “The public now responds much better if they can follow a concrete and tangible impact in a charity advert,” she says. “The most effective charity adverts feature just one person. If the advert shows just one single person, it feels more real and therefore has more of an impact.”

By using ethical visual storytelling in a charity campaign or on tailored projects, this opens up new platforms and spaces to hear authentic stories, giving oxygen to voices that sometimes can easily get buried under the weight of text and headlines.  The Humans of New York photo project is just one great example where visual storytelling works, the photographer Brandon Stanton's type of storytelling is great – where you can support from the outside. It means you are not hijacking the cause or stepping in and showing yourself as the hero; I personally believe that this is the way charities should work going forward.    

Words and Photography by John Ferguson