The Power of a Photograph
With the constant availability of camera-phones at our fingertips and the endless stream of casual snapshots that fill our social media timelines, we begin to take for granted the power that a single photograph can have. The clichéd phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” seems to underestimate the value of photography and it’s incredible effect on society. EPIC strives to capture much more than just a thousand words through our PhotoVoice: Iraq project, in which we aim to promote peace, empower youth, and spark social change through photojournalism and the art of photography. PhotoVoice: Iraq is a participatory research project that encourages young Iraqis to actively research issues in their community and consider solutions for these issues through photojournalism and written narratives.To learn more about the PhotoVoice: Iraq methodology, its mission, and our partners, check out the project’s page here.
In recent months, Iraq’s crisis has escalated, worsening many pre-existing social issues affecting Iraqi communities and taking a large toll on youth and their daily lives. With 47% of the Iraqi population under the age of 18, it is of growing importance that EPIC works to create a more prosperous and stabilized society for this generation. Students have experienced disruptions in their education and a lack of academic support within their communities, contributing to unfavorably high dropout rates. Over 1.4 million Iraqis have been displaced this year, making it extremely difficult, and even impossible, for students to continue with their education. For these reasons, EPIC turned to American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) to host our first successful PhotoVoice: Iraq session, where we had the opportunity of empowering 15 university students to ignite social change.
Goals for Social Change
Students began with big aspirations; they spoke of seeing the “violence and misbehaviours against women disappear”, “the civil wars to reach an end”, and the “corruption diminished.” Even with this notable passion for social change, the participants were incredibly reluctant to interact with community members in order to gather research. Erik Gustafson, EPIC executive director and PhotoVoice mentor, recalls sending PhotoVoice instructor, Sasa Kralj, to accompany a student to the local Elderly Home in efforts of encouraging interaction between the student and his community. After a bit of encouragement and a few weeks time, students became more comfortable with their community members, approaching strangers on the street to take powerful portraits and document each subject’s brilliant story of hardship and hopes for the future.
Reaching Out to the Community
With the worsening humanitarian crisis that displaced more than 1.4 million citizens and killed more than 8,000 civilians this year due to escalating violence, there is no better time for young Iraqis to voice their opinions and push their communities towards a safer civil society. Photovoice allows students to explore issues of importance through weekly photography assignments and mentoring sessions that provoke thought and encourage further research. Through the collection of this participatory research project, students interact with community members, allowing them to share PhotoVoice’s mission and their own personal goals for social change. The gallery displays at AUIS and Washington D.C. will provoke conversation amongst members of the community and public officials that have the power to make an impact. Traditional and social media groups will attend, as well as local policy makers, creating a multiplier effect that will deliver our students’ stories to a wide range of audience outside of their surrounding communities. The participant’s voices can be heard through each of their personal narratives, expressing their concern for issues that need addressing, and possible solutions for social change.
After such a successful session of PhotoVoice: Iraq, EPIC is preparing for another round in the Spring of 2015, with a new set of participants. EPIC hopes that with enough funding and support, PhotoVoice can eventually expand to other areas in Iraq, including Baghdad and Mosul, teaching young Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as well as Iraqi students. Keep a lookout for the 2014 participant galleries that will be posted on our blog in the near future.
Want to help support PhotoVoice: Iraq? Make your donations here!