Project Exposure Blog

On the Ground


As the sun was going down we crossed a river tumbling out of the foothills where local Malawian women were washing their crops in preparation for market. We immediately pulled over and after getting their permission began to document their daily chores as the sun began to glow a distinctive orange color I've only seen in Malawi.

On assignments in Africa I've seen the challenges that people face producing enough food for themselves much less for market. As The World Bank recently reported, food production in sub-Saharan Africa needs to increase by 60 percent over the next 15 years to feed a growing population. But with technology and infrastructure improving those challenges are turning into opportunities. According to a recent CNN report, women across the continent are taking matters into their own hands, and kick-starting an enthusiasm for agribusiness among young people. Farming and food have helped them break down gender barriers and reap the fruits of success.

Images can still shock us into action.

Pictures can change the world. There seemed to be little sympathy in Europe for refugees dying in the Mediterranean until images of the tiny body of Alan Kurdi, drowned as his family tried to reach Kos, impacted on hearts and minds last summer. The brutal death of one child can reawaken the conscience of a continent, thanks to the immediacy of a camera.

So why are the devastating pictures coming out of Madaya in Syria not having a similar impact? Photographs from this besieged city depict the stark reality of mass starvation. Children with barely covered ribs gaze at the camera. Emaciated corpses lie unburied. Yet the shocking visual evidence has not yet shaken the conscience of the world. It is just another sad story in the news.

It makes you wonder what it takes to project an image so deeply into the souls of strangers that it can change history. Pictures do have the power to shake us out of our passivity but this is not always so. The truth is that it does not happen often. The lightning of compassion strikes rarely.

The pictures coming out of Madaya are reminiscent of Don McCullin’s photographs of the victims of the Biafra war. In Biafra in 1968, as in Madaya at this moment, people were starving not simply because of drought or crop failure but as a direct consequence of war. McCullin was there to cover the war for the Sunday Times Magazine and he shocked the world with pictures of children visibly dying of hunger.

How much difference did McCullin’s pictures actually make? Before his and other images revealed that people were starving, the Nigerian civil war had not seized world attention. The emergence of these gut-wrenching images in summer 1968 led to a huge uproar of moral outrage in Britain and massive humanitarian campaigns by Oxfam and Save the Children. In France, the crisis led to the creation of Doctors Without Frontiers. The war itself went on – but images of Biafra did at last make the old colonial powers acknowledge Africans as fellow human beings and accept a duty of compassion, periodically rekindled by such pictures as Kevin Carter’s 1994 image of a Sudanese child apparently stalked by a vulture.

Long before McCullin went to Biafra, the great US photographer Walker Evans used the camera to campaign for a better world. Evans went to Cuba in 1933 to expose the crimes of its dictatorship and from 1935 to 1938 took a series of pictures of the victims of rural poverty during the Great Depression lodged themselves into the collective consciousness. Evans made America’s poor visible to America’s rich. Did his truth telling make a difference? His pictures provided powerful emotional arguments for Rooseveldt’s New Deal and changed America’s sense of its own identity forever.

The idea that an image can change the world even predates photography. The Victorian magazine The Graphic deliberately used art as a way to stir conscience. Its harrowing illustrations by such artists as Samuel Luke Fildes drew attention to the suffering of the poor and the brutality of workhouses. When photography started to be widely disseminated, the camera just gave this ability to depict reality and changes attitudes more immediacy. Social reformer Jacob Riis was anearly pioneer of this technique, capturing raw photographs of New York poverty designed to shame the city’s millionaires.

It seems that conscience is deeply associated, in our minds, with images. This goes back to Christian art in pre-modern Europe. Caravaggio’s paintingThe Seven Works of Mercy is just one of many Catholic paintings that portray poverty and injustice and urge the onlooker to do something about it.

Compassion, then, is not a new idea and nor is the power of images to awaken it. Artists like Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Hogarth all tried to use art to stir the world to act – and sometimes, like Don McCullin’s in Biafra, images really can make a difference.

This is why it is glib to talk of “compassion fatigue” or assume that people are numbed by images of atrocity. Last year’s mass change of heart showed how suddenly the lightning of conscience can strike. And yet the facts in Syria tangle compassion in barbed wire. Isis is not besieging Madaya, the Syrian regime is. So where does that leave us?

The long history of the power of images to stir empathy and action shows that anyone able to send pictures out of this starving city should keep doing so. It only takes one to change everything.

Moving forward

Project Exposure was born from the experience of working with small under funded NGO’s doing the kind of work that needed more attention. These projects were self-funded, self assigned and driven by our own passion. With that spirit in mind, we’re revising our model to reflect our core values and tap into all the photographers who have the same drive and passion. We’re granting funds of up to $1,000.00 to photographers who submit a proposal in partnership with an international NGO for work they’re already doing or work they want to pursue. To learn more click on the “get involved” section on our website.

Website Update

After a few years of using the website that launched Project Exposure we decided it was time to update the look and layout to better organize the information and make way for ideas we'd like to implement in the future. If you have any questions or thoughts please let us know!



A few weeks ago we received notification that we were included in a blog post by Photoshelter titled “5 ways photographers can give back”. Needless to say we’re humbled and proud to be included with organizations such as PhotoPhilanthropy and Nuru Project both of which play such an important role in creating opportunities for photographers to use their talents for the greater good.

Taking the Initiative

Taking the initiative

Boston based photographer and Cambodian language interpreter, Breck Sargent is planning a trip to Cambodia to shoot family portraits in rural villages, and then printing 8x10 prints of the photos to give to these families. According to Breck, these families live in areas “off the grid,” no power, sewer or modern comforts that we’re all accustomed to. Breck is doing this all on his own and needs help to raise the funds through Kickstarter. You can checkout his project by going to the following link:

Project Exposure was contacted by Breck in the hopes of getting funding for his project. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit our grant structure but we felt that the project deserved attention and so we wanted to help spread the word. If you have a project you’re working on or contemplating, please feel free to contact us, we may not always be able to help with funding but if the idea has merit there are other ways we might be able to help.

Good Luck Breck!

EXPOSURE 2012 goes on tour

Exposure 2012 goes on tour

Last week marked the final events of EXPOSURE 2012 at Vertigo Art Space in Denver Colorado. On Friday September 28th we hosted the final event that was geared towards photographers and had a great turnout all night long. Now that the show has been packed up and sent to Friendship Bridge it will go on tour to various cities and towns across the US where Friendship Bridge has a network of support groups they call “Friendship Circles”. As the schedule comes together we’ll post notices here as well as on our Kickstarter and Facebook pages so stay tuned for updates.

EXPOSURE 2012 Opening Night


For anyone unable to make last week’s event, Project Exposure and Vertigo Gallery will open the doors to the public this Friday from 6-9PM and all are welcome. Last Friday marked the beginning of the exhibit with a fund-raising event sponsored by Friendship Bridge and Project Exposure. We had over 30 people come to see the work of Ben Rasmussen and hear about the great work Friendship Bridge is doing to provide micro-credit and education to Guatemalan women so they can create their own solutions to poverty for themselves, their families and their communities.

EXPOSURE 2012 in the news.


EXPOSURE 2012 was featured on Denver’s Channel 9 news program “Colorado and Company”. Tim Ryan, Ben Rasmussen and Karen Larson, Executive Director of Friendship Bridge, were interviewed yesterday on the show to highlight the upcoming opening of EXPOSURE 2012 on September 14th, 2012. To watch the interview click on this link EXPOSURE 2012 Interview

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