Working with International NGO's
I have been very fortunate to have travelled and worked in a variety of different continents over the years, covering a diverse range of stories and issues, for national newspapers and various charity organisations. My work has seen me cover stories such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Asia, and South Africa, to the worsting situations in South Sudan and the Darfur region. I have travelled extensively throughout Africa producing images on behalf of charities such as Save the Children, Christian Aid, the VSO and UNICEF. My background as a staff photographer on one of the UK's leading national newspapers gave me valuable experience in dealing and working in situations that were sometimes difficult and challenging. But never the less, these assignments gave me a clearer insight into the goals of each particular organisation and also raised my ability to adapt and produce work that was both creative and informative.
For the majority of my assignments, I would typically be paired with a freelance or staff journalist from a national newspaper, alongside someone from the communications department of that particular charity. My jobs were usually two-fold. The first role was to produce images that would accompany the journalist's feature articles, so keeping in close touch with the journalist and of course each of the subjects' stories, plus, importantly any other connecting incidentals that made up a visual narrative for the individuals or groups stories. And secondly, to produce specific sets or series of images for that charity, following a particular agenda or a series of briefs, which we would work towards. The use of good photography is vital for all facets of promotion and marketing, from brochures, websites, posters and all other printed visuals.
When I started out in this particular field of photography, It was hard to know the real value or the impact that my photographic work or projects could bring to an issue. But as I became more confident and grew to understand the effect my images were having on people, I could see what needed to be (visually) included, how a story should be crafted, and how the story became a story without words. I wanted the message in my images to resonate and for there to be some reflection on behalf of the viewers, which I hope, in turn, would inspire people to get involved, and be willing to help.
As the guy behind the camera it is my job to transfer the story in front of me to the viewer, to carry not only the client's message but also and just as importantly the subject's story, giving a voice to those who sometimes fail to have their stories heard or told. It's never easy to see people in need of security, shelter or subsistence, and I feel it a duty to tell their story in the best possible way that I can, and to the best of my abilities.
I've seen my work published in national newspapers, magazines, on billboards, TV shows to national poster campaigns, which tells me that I must be helping, if only in a small way, to bring attention to their stories and issues.
I've found that the most potent forms of communicating my photographs are when they're combined with multimedia presentations and at public engagement events, where we can personally connect with our audiences. The impact of the work and the experience of our experiences are insurmountable when heard firsthand.
I realise that my work can't change situations overnight, and the argument can quickly be levelled as to any tangible or meaningful effect on certain difficult circumstances. But I still believe that my photographs can make a difference. I have witnessed communities benefiting from donations from newspaper readers; I've seen small country hospitals grow and expand as a consequence of more trained medical staff and new clinical equipment, all through the imagery I provided and the circulation and exposure that my photography had gained.
I love the challenging aspect of this work, connecting with people, working and collaborating within a team environment, all working to the same agenda, looking to achieve the same positive results.
Another essential asset that I found to be true for anyone wanting to work with agencies is having the right temperament and attitude when working in the 'field'. No two days are ever the same, situations and circumstances can change overnight, everything is fluid, and I've had to be open to these changes, prepared for any unforeseen or problematic issues.
My experiences of working with international agencies have given me some of my most memorable adventures and encounters, and I'm grateful for those who have helped me imagine these fantastic opportunities. I hope that those people who view my images would gain a greater understanding and awareness of the world in which we live. I know the photos I've taken have been a massive bonus for me in my career, images that I can always look back on.
I'm always ready for the next commission, and egerly looking forward to continuing my contribution of new photography.
Words and picture by John Ferguson