Photography as an Agent of Change

Four photography books strive to make a difference.

CHARLES BRITTIN, NEAR LOS ANGELES, CA, 1963. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute. Activists picketing at a demonstration for housing equality while uniformed American Nazi Party members counter protest in the background with signs displaying anti-integration slogans and racist epithets. From ‘North of Dixie’ by Mark Speltz

Four photography books strive to make a difference.

The fervor of current world events makes it easy to lose sight of the present and past social movements striving for a better world. Photographers and journalists are more important than ever to bring us stories of justice and injustice. A few photography books I’ve reviewed recently are definitely worth readers’ attention given the current socio-political climate.

Given how many images of conflict, tragedy, and disaster we see each day, one might find themselves truly struggling with a good answer to the question of whether photography is a positive agent of change or not. But please take a few moments to expose yourself to these books. Each book’s title below is a link to the full review. Consider how you personally can make, or have made, a positive impact in the world around you and your community. Take into consideration how each photographer’s work in these books affects you. It is my hope that readers of these books and viewers of these photographs will carry the ideas forward — affecting the world around them in positive ways. Like pebbles tossed into a pond, everyone can cause ripples extending farther than we could ever imagine.

This Is What Surviving Gun Violence Looks Like

SHOT: 101 Survivors of Gun Violence in America, by Kathy Shorr

Many of the gun-violence survivors in Shorr’s new book SHOT have recovered against odds, put their lives back together and now taking an active role in inviting a public back into the tough dialogue about American gun violence. Kathy Shorr depicts the determination of the human spirit. The survivors are together in themselves and more importantly they are together collectively. Their lives from this point forward are made of a new set of challenges but they know they are not taking on these challenges in isolation. Shorr’s SHOT gives us a chance to listen.

North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South by Mark Speltz

Photographs of the African American Civil Rights Movement

A black man has served as a two-term president. People of color have held some of the highest offices in the government — yet the nation has not seen many issues of race and inequality disappear in the everyday lives of many Americans. But the overall feeling I got from North of Dixie is a combination of hope mixed with disappointment. It is my personal hope that people of different races, color or creed will see there is far more to be gained in life by working together and accepting each other for who we are. North of Dixie brings to light numerous lesser-known historic photographic images and illuminates the story of the civil rights movement in the American North and West. The book reveals the power of photography to preserve historical memory, impact social consciousness, and stimulate critical dialogue among everyone interested in social justice, human rights, American history, the African American civil rights movement, Black studies, and photojournalism. And hopefully, by better understanding the failures of our past we can avoid the pitfalls of repeating it. North of Dixie certainly goes a long way to guide the path.

Portraits of Shared Humanity

Giles Duley photographs the survivors of war

Conflicts come and go, but their legacies remain. It takes courage to be an advocate for something greater than ourselves. It requires something more than just the absence of fear. Any fool can be fearless. The essence of courage comes from the best version of ourselves, and the strength to do the right thing, to do hard things for the lasting benefit of others. It takes this type of courage to photograph people caught in the effects of war, in hopes that the quiet pairing of empathetic images and words speaks louder than the bloody spectacle of war.

Through Darkness to Light by Jeanine Michna-Bales

Photographs Along the Underground Railroad

Through Darkness to Light is a wonderful collection of researched historic documents, engaging photographs and text that creates an insightful narrative to events that occurred over 170 years ago. When one considers how many people are still fleeing oppression and moving toward freedom around the world, the Underground Railroad is just as poignant today when seen through the lens of present day social injustice. The desire for freedom and the interracial assistance of others was, and is, an important lesson to be told and retold.