Through Your Lens: Images Make Change

February 23, 2011 | Written By:

Today we have a guest blog from Andrew Anatasi of Critical Exposure, a nonprofit that teaches youth to use the power of photography and their own voices to become effective advocates for school reform and social change. HSC is partnering with Critical Exposure and the 21st Century School Fund to present the Through Your Lens photo and essay contest.

Photographs can lead to real change. Jacob Riis' documentation of urban poverty in New York City inspired Teddy Roosevelt and the New York City government to clean up the slums. Gordon Parks’ images exposed segregation in the South and helped to catalyze support for the Civil Rights movement.

And now, students, teachers and community members are leading the charge to reform school facilities using cameras. Images have never been a more effective vehicle for highlighting societal problems and effecting meaningful change.

During the Great Depression, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and other photographers documented the hardships facing rural farmers, sharecroppers and migrant workers. These photographs put faces on the problem of economic injustice and forced the country to confront the difficulties being faced by its workers.

It’s even more powerful when the people impacted by a problem are the ones taking the photos and telling their stories.  It’s a way to empower community members to speak out about their own lives and advocate for solutions: these are the makings of real, deep, people-powered change.

In 1996, women from rural China used photography to successfully fight for better medical care and health facilities closer to their homes. In Flint, Michigan, community members came together to document youth violence and helped build the public demand needed to create a Youth Violence Prevention Center.

Groups such as the AjA Project in San Diego, SALT in New York and Youth in Focus in Seattle all work with underprivileged youth to empower them to document their daily lives and express their own visions through photography.

Critical Exposure has used this approach to improve education and school facilities. Beginning in 2004, we gave cameras to students in Baltimore’s low-income schools to document their schools, a project which helped convince the 2005 Maryland General Assembly to increase funding for school facilities by $100 million.

After seeing student photos of city schools in March 2006, the D.C. City Council passed the School Modernization Act, promising $200 million per year in funding for D.C. public school facilities. And in 2008, photographs and writing from students from three towns in Pennsylvania became a central component of a statewide campaign to reform school funding, resulting in an increase of over $275 million annually, now distributed more equitably.

Photography helped campaign organizers focus on “the power of students speaking for themselves,” according to Baruch Kintisch of the Education Law Center, one of the campaign leaders. “Our campaign would definitely not have been as successful without their work.”

We need change on the local, state, and national levels, and photographs can help make that change happen. The image represents not only powerful testimony but a tool for mobilizing action. By documenting conditions, building public support, identifying solutions and holding decision-makers accountable, community members can ensure that school facilities enhance the education of all students.

You’re just one click away from helping make that happen. 

Visit for more information

Plus! Click here to read more about student photographers in the Pennsylvania campaign!

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