Karen O'Hern Photography | My Call to Humanitarian Photography

My Call to Humanitarian Photography

May 24, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

 

I could not have imagined at the start of this year that my journey would take me from a hobby in travel photography to a career change as a humanitarian photographer. But as I travelled different continents interacting with individuals from diverse cultures and experiencing our commonality in smiles and friendships, I realized that a transformation had occurred. Though taking photos during my travels off-the-beaten-path had in past years fed my soul, it suddenly was only partially fulfilling. I became passionate about adding photography to my existing healthcare executive and leadership skills and leveraging these to enact positive social change for at-risk and vulnerable children worldwide.

 

My transformation began, inspired by David duChemin, prolific author and humanitarian photographer, and his writings on vision and the intent of image-making. I travelled with him and other like-minded photographers to Ethiopia and was mesmerized by how my colleagues’ photographs, graced with the most beautiful natural light, captured the moment that pulsated powerful emotion of the experience through their digital images. I felt more committed to pursuing photography as a central focus of my life than ever before.

 

I extended my travels and joined my pediatrician friend, Dr. Keith Powell, and his colleague, Laurie McPherson, in providing primary healthcare and education to the children of rural Kalaing’ombe Village outside of Mombasa, Kenya. They had joined efforts with Anke Jenkins who was building a preschool named JipeMoyo, meaning “Give Yourself Hope”. Because I go nowhere without my cameras, Keith naturally asked me to document their work. While I had developed my own photographic style during my travels over the years, I desired greater knowledge and expertise in how to most effectively capture the story of their efforts through photography. As I shot our daily events as both participant and photographer, I made a mental note to put together a plan for formal study in documentary photography. My desire was to perfect the art of creating an effective photographic essay in order to help organizations bring attention to their cause and activities, and influence a broader community to engage in and support their efforts.

The preschoolers at JipeMoyo Preschool first notice that I am carrying a camera

The preschoolers at JipeMoyo Preschool first notice that I am carrying a camera

 

We distribute shoes to the children to stop the passing of parasites

We distribute shoes to the children to protect them from parasites

 

Dr. Keith sets up clinic outside the JipeMoyo Preschool

Dr. Keith sets up clinic outside the JipeMoyo Preschool

 

The primary school children wait to be seen by Dr. Keith

The primary school children wait to be seen by Dr. Keith

 

Dr. Keith does full exams on the children

Dr. Keith does a full exam on the children. Ringworm is prevalent 

 

Ringworm is prevalent on almost all the children

Family clinic days at JipeMoyo were very popular. Families walked for miles to attend

Family clinic days at JipeMoyo were very popular. Families walked for miles to attend

 

Laurie teaches the families proper medication administration through the help of an interpreter

Laurie teaches the families proper medication administration through the help of an interpreter

 

Mom cradles son to offer comfort and security during the exam

Mom cradles son to offer comfort and security during the exam

 

The two weeks passed quickly. I bid farewell to Keith, Laurie, the children and teachers in the village and returned to my home in the US, and immediately put together an intensive self-study program led by some of the most notable international humanitarian and documentary photographers. Finding myself once again graced by luck in timing, I was able to sequence a series of workshops to provide me with the focused instruction and practice I desired. So I planned to join Momenta Workshops with Jamie Rose in Cape Town, South Africa; Ami Vitale and Lana Slezic in Ladakh, India; and Karl Grobl in Cambodia. With these trips, the time had come to head out of the country again and the learning, excitement and hard work of pursuing my dream was about to begin!

 


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