Photography, at its core, is a tool for communicating meaning between human beings. We use it to advertise, share memories, and occasionally Photoshop an aeroplane in to add to the meaning we've already captured. In the right hands, photography can be an extremely powerful tool to do good in the world. It can bring about change, help people, and communicate ideas we couldn't otherwise communicate.
Early last year, I held a creative meetup for photographers in Seoul to get together and share their ideas. The only rule that we had was that it could be nothing technical or gear-related. Our discussion was about creativity and what photography really is. We had topics ranging from building a portfolio to how to remain creative. My own topic was "The Meaning in What We Do." I explored the concept that we are able to make small positive changes in the world around us with the gift we have been given.
My good friend, Damari McBride, has taken this concept and run with it in everything that he does. McBride is always trying to do more with his photography. When I met him in Seoul, he was using it to connect people, and in his recent project, he has been using the concept to understand the lives of people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Beginning when he watched a television drama, and then seeing his own grandmother's progression into Alzheimer's disease, McBride's idea grew into what is now a collaborative research project with the Penn Memory Center to learn about people living with MCI by using photography as a tool to encourage conversation.
There are two features to the project. First, participants are given a camera to capture images that represent or reflect aspects of their everyday life that frustrate, assist, or challenge their memory. Then, during a one-on-one interview with a researcher, participants discuss their images so researchers can gain insight into how they are living with MCI. Next, participants meet with McBride for their portrait session. McBride decided to focus on the most important aspects of photography during his sessions with the participants: creativity and storytelling. This way, participants were able to express what is important to them in their own way.
"Photography gives them that platform; it allowed them to capture precious memories of their loved ones and their routines," McBride says. This is a great way to bring their voices to life. With photography, we are all able to express ourselves in our own way and discover ourselves. What if we could use this to help people? That is exactly what this project aims to find out.
McBride and researchers at the Penn Memory Center have curated a traveling exhibit of the participant-generated images and stories, as well as participant portraits taken by McBride. The images in this article are taken by study participants and McBride. You can view the online exhibition at McBride's website and here starting in June. The goal of this project is to increase understanding of the experiences of living with MCI and to raise awareness about cognitive impairments.
"Creativity is healthy; I believe about as healthy as laughter. Sometimes, creativity brings about laughter. This is a chance for these participants to tell you a story about something important to them in their own way," says McBride. This, I believe, is something we can all focus more on. The act of creation is important, not the tools we use to do it. The results of that process have the potential to have great effects beyond just the created thing.
I would love for the comments section of this article to be an open space for sharing other projects that have helped enrich people's lives with photography or videography. Please share any projects you have come across with us here.
Images used with the permission of Damari McBride.