Portrait of a Cambodian woman by humanitarian photographer Bryon Lippincott

This is where we really get to the challenge of humanitarian photography and filmmaking. How do we meld our responsibility to the two different groups I mentioned in my two previous posts, the organization and the storyteller?

While this is challenging I feel that there is an order of operations to the process if you will. A method to make sure that expectations are met and the subjects of our stories are given the dignity and honor they are due.

The first part of this process in my opinion is to clarify expectations with the organizations we are working with. As they are (hopefully) contributing to the expense involved in telling these stories, it is our duty as photographers and filmmakers to clarify expectations of what they want produced and how those expectations will coexist with our process and principles.

The second part is then to make sure that we have a deeper understanding the organization that has hired us as described in part three of this series. In order for us to be able to craft effective communication we need to be able to understand the organization and quite honestly really believe that their work is effective and something that we would personally support. Our job is to be a surrogate communicator for these organizations which requires the ability to empathetically speak from their point of view.

The third part of this process is to connect with and deeply listen to the person who is going to tell their story. As I described before it is a balance between asking the right questions and listening for information hidden in their answers. The more stories I relay the more I feel the weight of the responsibility of relaying them in a way that honors the person telling the story.

The fourth part of this process is to understand what the person is saying and be able to tie it back to what you know about the organization, and how they work. This allows us to fill in the details that bring body to the relationship between the organization and the individual. These details allow the audience to see how the organization works through the life this individual.

In the beginning I was hesitant to move toward and pursue humanitarian photography in this way, because of the extra work it requires and the amount of time it requires for me to produce each story. But having completed a number of these stories now in photo essays and short films. I would find it hard to work any other way. There is a deep satisfaction in refocusing the lens on the hero’s that go unnoticed, on the dignity and valor of those who toil for a better life.