Chapman generally works for smaller groups that aren’t able to hire quality photographers, such as Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee and Strategic World Impact. Looking at the vast spread of world problems, he sometimes wonders how much of a dent he can actually make, but at the same time he reminds himself that helping even one person is enough. He muses that his motto should be, “Take Photos, Do Good”— simplifying the overwhelming complexity of humanitarian issues into one catchphrase is helpful for a tireless photographer like Chapman to keep a strong grip on his role in all of it.

Indeed, defining his role is not always easy — Chapman has found that the effects of his presence on the scene during a conflict can be hard to anticipate, such as with his ongoing work on the persecution of northern Pakistan’s Christian minority. Chapman’s interest in this issue began with a trip to photograph relief efforts following the 2005 Pakistan earthquake that resulted in over 80,000 deaths. Trailing the food, construction, and medical aid deliveries of Strategic World Impact in northern Pakistan and working with Christian interpreters, Chapman started hearing about terrible treatment of Christians in the region. There were stories of forced marriages, rape, and job and education discrimination. “[There were] even stories of torture for drinking out of the wrong water spigot or cup — reminiscent of pre-civil rights USA,” Chapman says.

Over the next several years, Chapman began to photograph the victims of this religious persecution. One series of black and white photographs shows the aftermath of a 2009 looting and torching incident of the Christian communities Gojra and Korian by thousands of Muslim extremists, where targeted Christians were shot or burned to death and houses were destroyed. In Chapman’s photographs, solitary men and women are posed in grief and isolation among the rubble, their faces shadowed or hidden. Chapman spent time in the ruins, speaking to the victims and recording their stories. “This Christian minority, as many minorities around the world, experiences a lifestyle of endurance, a lifetime of patient subjection to authority determined to crush them,” he says. “In Korian, I photographed a father and his malnourished five-month old child in the charred ruins of his home. The man asked me what he will do now with no home, no income, no food and no access to water.”

During his missions, Chapman has sometimes had to put himself in personal danger, but he worries more about the effect his presence has on those he photographs. “I have close friends in Pakistan now. I don’t want any harm to come to them by my presence in the country or by the publication of their images,” he says. “Working in Pakistan as an American is difficult, but even more difficult for me is trying to photograph this story and confer a sense of anonymity to the subjects that might be placed in danger by the photos. For that reason, where necessary, I have chosen to photograph the subjects without showing their faces.”

Once, Chapman photographed a Christian woman housing several children who were made orphans by the earthquake. After his departure, the home was burned by an arsonist. No one was harmed, but Chapman has often wondered if the attack was not incited by his presence. He has had to ask himself how to be more cautious to avoid problems for his subjects. It hasn’t been an easy problem to reconcile, he says, “I have never been more frustrated on a story by the simple fact that I have had to leave many photos untaken. Many wonderful moments have gone unrecorded when it was too dangerous to take photos.” A central issue of photographing such sensitive situations is the question of just how much a photographer should get involved, and what possible damages this inference can carry with it. South African photojournalist Kevin Carter’s infamous 1993 Pulitzer-winning shot of an enfeebled Sudanese child menaced by a vulture is a case in point. It has been disputed in the media that the member of the Bang-Bang Club took his own life due to not only the horrific and strenuous extremes of his job, but the constant attacks that remained in his mind on what he could have done for those less fortunate than himself while on the job.

Chapman believes that even with the ambiguities implicit in getting involved, his photography ultimately helps the people he befriends. “Non-profit work has allowed me to enter the lives of people going through great distress,” he says. “I don’t take this privilege and responsibility lightly. It is an honor to be their voice and hopefully move [other] people to help.” Once in a while he wonders, though, if looking through a camera is enough. “I am sensing the need [and] desire to be more than just a photographer,” he says. “We aren’t necessarily called to rescue the entire world or all of the whales in the Atlantic, but we can sure assist people we meet that need help or get involved with issues that resonate with us.”

Despite the difficulties, Wyatt and Chapman both find their work extremely rewarding. Humanitarian photography requires, among other skills, the ability to connect on an intimate level with the people one photographs. Wyatt finds that his experience in social research has helped him build up a rapport with the people he photographs, and he loves swapping jokes, playing with pets, and accepting invitations to home-cooked meals. This intimacy translates in palpable ways through the camera: an expression of familiarity, perhaps, or permission to peek into secretly meaningful spaces. The most talented subject photographers know that everybody has a story, and the trick lies in finding it and shaping it.

“Photography is an open door into places and people’s lives,” Chapman says. “Without the camera, I would not have that access.”


The visual image is an incredibly potent advocacy tool. Photojournalism has an unparalleled ability to instantly communicate the realities of life for people whose faces we typically don’t see and voices we can’t hear. More than that, a well-constructed image never fails to trigger an emotional reaction in even the most world-weary among us. While cynics tire of statistics and shrug off news stories, it’s difficult to ignore the reality of another human face. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof has made a career out of putting faces onto previously overlooked issues; as he knows well, when we are able to make a problem visible, to see portraits of the people affected, it produces tangible results — we tell our friends, we donate, we vote. Likewise, Chapman says, “The truth and honesty of photos touch something in our core and almost demand a response.”

Leslie Thomas is one example of a woman who responded — albeit in an exceptional way. Thomas was a busy architect and mother in Chicago when she read an article about the brutal ongoing violence in Darfur. What held her attention was an accompanying photo showing a child with a brutalized face, targeted because of his ethnicity. Moved profoundly by the tragedy contained in this one image, she was compelled to take action and founded Art Work Projects, a visual advocacy organization aiming to produce action on human rights crises by mounting public photo exhibitions. “When we see the faces of those who have been most affected by human rights injustices, it offers an unparalleled level of insight into their struggle. A little boy becomes our son, brother, nephew; an older woman becomes our sister, mother, aunt,” says Tess Landon, Art Works Project’s program coordinator.

Art Works Projects is focused specifically on rousing individuals to action from the grassroots level in order to create support for the most severe human rights crises of our time and effectuate policy change. Thomas, Landon, and a team of directors, consultants, and collaborating photographers create media installations in exhibitions and public spaces around the world, including New York, Paris, Lisbon, Oslo, and Slovenia. Their goal is not to shock, but they believe a profound emotional reaction is the most effective way to produce action. “The most important thing to us is that they [the public] have a reaction — be it anger, sadness, confusion, enlightenment, empowerment, or awe,” Landon says.

The success of Art Works Projects all depends, of course, on how well the photographs tell a story to a not expectant public. Images from BLOOD/STONES, about the trade in Burmese rubies and the political oppression it finances in Myanmar, communicate the widespread poverty of Myanmar’s citizens, the indifference of international gem dealers indirectly supporting human rights violations, and finally, the courage of Burmese citizens in public protests against exploitative government measures. In CONGO/WOMEN the photos show the isolation of victims of gender violence, the devastation of disease, and also the resolution of these women to provide for their children and families and their grace in the face of overwhelming difficulties.

Many of these photos are painful to see — they should be. In them is evidence of the disasters that humans have caused; they reveal our failings. But Art Works Projects, along with humanitarian photographers in the field like Wyatt and Chapman, believes that art can and does play an important role in processes of change for the better.

“What I’m about is hope,” Wyatt says, “and showing the difference organizations and corporate responsibility initiatives can make. I’m keen to show people’s dignity in difficult situations, and also our common humanity.”

Robin Wyatt is currently expanding his development work to shoot assignments for corporate social responsibility departments while establishing a firm presence in South Asia.

Gary S. Chapman and his wife are currently working on projects in Pakistan about education and the persecution of the Christian minority, some of which has been featured on CNN:

Art Works Projects is trying to bring “BLOOD/STONES: Burmese Rubies” to Washington, DC this summer as conversations continue about the constantly changing political climate in Burma/Myanmar. Also underway is a project on the Arab Spring.

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