Vanuatu, photo courtesy of Tasmin Brown, founder of Portrait Equality
Portrait Equality is a not-for-profit project that seeks to provide family pictures to those in developing nations and remote communities – perhaps a photo of a child for a father to carry when he goes away to work in the city, or of an aging grandmother so she can be remembered by younger generations. We offer instant cameras on loan (free of charge) along with packets of film to photographers travelling to developing nations and remote communities so they can, inturn, provide portraits to local people along their journey. The goal is to give photos, not just take them, and to perhaps give a villager their first family photo.
If you were asked what you would save if your home were burning to the ground, you would likely mention your family photo album. With online media and digital cameras widely available throughout most modern Western societies, key moments of an individual’s life are now easily documented for posterity. Many families could never afford a family portrait, and many villagers have never had a photo of themselves or their children. This, however, is still not the case in a great number of developing nations and village communities the world over.
What was your experience as a photographer before you started Portrait Equality?
I am a family and children’s photographer and love to capture the experience of a family in a moment. As a mother myself, I have an overwhelming archive of images of my own children which I hold dear. Some people just aren’t as fortunate to have such a basic remembrance of their loved ones.
In the age of digital photography, what inspired you to buy an instant camera for your travels?
I really just bought it as a toy, a fun thing for parties with the recent trending of more analog throw-backs, but it was only when I threw it in the bag for PNG that its true potential shone through.
Why do you think a there has been resurgence in popularity of the instant camera? Do we crave the nostalgic? Is it a backlash against such a digital world?
There is something very satisfying about the instant gratification of having a tangible print in your hand, where so many moments now live only on our phones and in cyberspace. A part of it is legacy, being tied to the past, but for me the excitement that builds while you hold the milky white card as it transforms into an indelible image is the best. Especially when you literally have a village surrounding you watching with amazement.
Nepal, photo courtesy of Hannah Hawkins on assignment for Portrait Equality
As travellers, many of us love to take photos of the people we meet in a new destination. However, I love the concept of giving photos, rather than just taking them – most people don’t stop to think about how much more than image would mean to the subject, than to them. Do you think this initiative will make people think differently?
I know many fellow travellers who have shared a smile by showing a small child their image on our camera’s LCD screen, even others who have gone to the lengths to post back images to those they have met, never to know if the dodgy postal service delivered. There are many ways to make connections with people and this is just one, but it is a powerful way that changes the dynamic from behind the lens to in front of it. It has enabled our photographers have amazing authentic experiences with the locals, understand that we are all more alike than different, and really value the power of an image.
What is the most memorable interaction you’ve had while photographing for Portrait Equality?
So many smiles come to mind, but the one portrait that really made understand the value of a simple photo to someone none was in a small village outside of Goroka in the Highlands of PNG. We had wandered in the dirt path to a cluster of thatch huts accompanied by the medic stationed in the area and came upon a father who had just come back from working in the city to meet his new daughter. He excitedly held her up for a portrait and then as he watched it develop, he kissed her and vigorously shook my hand. Taking the billum bag off his back, he emptied the contents and offered it to me in thanks. This bag took days to weave by his wife and the pattern conveyed his status in that village. It was clearly something valuable to him, but the picture of his family was even more valuable.
Mauritania, photo courtesy of Cam Cope on assignment for Portrait Equality
You are obviously a very passionate advocate of family portraits – something generally taken for granted in more developed countries. How do you think these images affect the people you give them to?
I think having a remembrance of your family is something that can be universally appreciated and we think this project is a way to give something of value without detrimentally affecting the local culture. There are many other groups offering medical, financial, and supply support to villages which are desperately needed, but they come with challenges around dependency and corruption. Giving a portrait is a simple act of kindness, no strings attached.
How do you become a photographer for Portrait Equality?
You can apply through our website. We are simply looking for travellers adventuring to parts of the world where the locals would benefit from our project, and would value a family portrait they wouldn’t otherwise have. We schedule the cameras on a rotating basis, so your camera may have just come back from an exciting trip to remote Nepal before it heads out with you. You do not need to be a professional photographer, but we do prioritise based on individuals demonstrating an ability to convey a good story. Travellers always want to live vicariously through the tales of others, so we look for those who have proper equipment (DSLR) to capture photos along their journey and write a blog post about the people they met and the experience they enjoyed. It is free to participate.
Note: World Nomads now has a camera with Portrait Equality named 'Sanchez' who will be travelling the world with our talented, globe-trotting nomads. Are you travelling to a remote destination on your next trip? Are you interested in taking 'Sanzchez' with you? Email email@example.com to find out how to get involved.
Papua New Guinea, photo courtesy of Tasmin Brown
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Giving a little back
We believe there is a moral obligation to give a little back to the communities in which we travel. The Footprints Network was founded by WorldNomads.com as an online philanthropy project to do just that.
How does it work? When you purchase a policy with us, you can choose an active project and add on your donation.