Industry Interviews

Photographer and Creative director Megan Ewing Shares how her experience with Photographers without borders Impacted her life & how PWB brings Positive change and spreads awareness

What about Photographers Without Borders  made you commit to becoming involved beyond your first experience?
Once I had experienced working on a project in a developing country first hand, I knew I wanted to do more. Witnessing the communities struggling or the animals suffering in the streets or the lack of drinking water or the amount of pollution, all these things I experienced on my first project and I instantly wanted to do my part to bring upon change and spread awareness.

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How does PWB enlighten and inspire people through its work?
I think PWB inspires in a way that differs from most; a photograph(s) that tells a story of someone/something whose voice goes unheard or they don’t have the means to share their voice. PWB works with grassroot organizations to make sure their story is told through photography and video. Before we team up with an organization, the organization doesn’t have high quality photos for their website, social media, marketing campaigns etc. which makes spreading awareness of their cause very difficult. After we partner with them, they have the visuals to share their story(ies), raise awareness and inspire their audience to help.
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How can an experience with PWB shift a pro photographer or a hobbyist to expand their vision of how photography can change the world? How does PWB work to democratize the whole sphere of travel?
I started out as a hobbyist photographer, a photographer who just enjoyed having a camera in her hands and capturing moments but not knowing what to do beyond that and wasn’t happy with the ‘jobs’ i was doing. When I became part of PWB, I learnt not only how powerful a photo can be, but how I can use my skills/talent/creativity to help those in countries who need the help. PWB’s projects also aim to raise awareness about eco-tourism. In a lot of cases, tourism can be dangerous to wildlife, sustainability and can upset communities. We at PWB exercise the ethics of photography and what you as a photographer (and tourist) should be aware of when traveling. Ethics for a documentary photographer are very important and include (but are not limited too) a persons permission/consent, how you edit, safety, journalistic integrity, responsibility, framing, narratives, your power/role as a photographer, and how photography can and has impacted social change.
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You have a Eugene Smith quote on your profile about the the power of photography, how has this quote become relevant to your work with Photographers without Borders. Photography is a small voice, at best, but sometimes one photograph, or a group of them, can lure our sense of awareness” – Eugene Smith
This quote has become so insanely relevant to my life now. This quote represents what PWB is all about, spreading awareness through visual storytelling. Yes there are times when you may feel small and feel like your voice only goes so far, but if we all do our part, change will happen and our world needs that.
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PWB partners with grassroots organizations to build awareness about the work they do. Which organizations did PWB partner with for the Guatemala, Colombia and Costa Rica trips? What have been some of the outcomes of these collaborations that have surprised you?
Guatemala was my first ever project with PWB and this took place prior to me joining the team as the Creative Director. When I was chosen to travel to Guatemala as a photographer I was terrified, ecstatic, excited, nervous.. among many other mixed emotions. I knew this was what I was meant to be doing but I wasn’t sure at that time, if I was ready, especially emotionally. Since I was chosen to travel and capture the work of Casa Guatemala, a school and home for children who were either living in poverty or were orphans, I knew I had to be strong as this was not going to be a easy project, and I was right. Meeting the children for my first time, I did not want to leave. The children instantly were attached to my hip, very interested in me as a person but also my equipment, wanting to play and do my hair, it broke my heart. The children have so little, but were so happy and appreciative of what they had, big or small. This project opened my eyes in a way you can’t even imagine. After working with CG, they ended up using my photos and video for a fundraising campaign where they raised approx. $3,000 in just one day! Since then, photos have been used in magazine articles, marketing materials (for both CG and PWB) and more!

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Colombia was very different. Colombia I was not going as a lead photographer but as a videographer (and a bit of photo) to capture behind the scenes and to simply be there to help with the project. Michael Bednar, the photographer chosen for this project, and I traveled to Colombia to document the work of Mision Gaia. Mision Gaia is located in Minca, Colombia, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, where there are a lot of issues with stray animals, pollution, high poverty rates and insufficient opportunities and education for children. Through educative programs and animal clinics, MG has started by providing care for their animal populations. They also focus on education (recycling programs, garbage pick up events) as the foundation for a better future. Michael and I got to witness the challenges the Sierra Nevade de Santa Marta is facing as a whole and where help was needed. We helped with recycling programs, deworming clinics for strays and pets and also hiked (for a full day) to Los Pinos (still the hardest hike/walk I have EVER done), where we got to witness all of the biodiversity the Sierra Nevada has to offer.

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Costa Rica, which took place from February 3-12, 2016, was incredible. As part of our program at PWB, we are now offering photodocumentary workshops, which are taught by our founder Danielle Da Silva, all over the world. As part of our workshop, students who have successfully completed our workshop will receive and official introduction to photodocumentary certificate and have a chance to be featured in our magazine. During our workshops, students learn about Portraiture, lighting and how to use it, photography ethics, along with landscape and night photography. This workshop, I was chosen to go along with Danielle to capture all of the behind the scenes footage, both photo and video. Our next workshop is taking place in May in the Galapagos Islands (but is fully booked) and then we have our fall workshop taking place in Cambodia in October and there are still spots available. Anyone who is interested can learn more on our website, www.photographerswithoutborders.org/workshops
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In your work in Colombia and Guatemala you beautifully capture the nature and the profound beauty of these places while simultaneously being connected to the people and wildlife that live there and their present reality. How does this awareness affect how you take pictures when you are there?
Number one thing to remember as a documentary photographer is to go with an open mind and not have a story planned ahead of time. If you get to a project, and you already have a story made up in your mind, then the photos your are taking are flawed as they are telling your view of the story, not the view of those who live it every single day. When I arrive, I try my best to get to know everyone on a personal level and make sure they are comfortable with me and having me around. When you act as a ‘fly on the wall’ you capture the beauty and truth that you are meant to be capturing, not your own biased views.
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It is through the sharing of your work that you evolve. PWB encourages multiple levels of sharing of photographers work through its infrastructure. What are some of the outcomes of this process
Here in North America, we are extremely fortunate to live the way we do and that’s why we at PWB want to use everything we have (social media, the news, the web, in print), to tell stories for those who can’t tell them. Our followers and audience are growing on a daily basis and with facebook alone, we can reach over 12,000 people a day. If we are sharing visuals and stories daily, and even a quarter of our audience sees it, it’s a good day. We also publish every project we do in our quarterly magazine where the reader can learn even more about each organization and can see the best photos for that project. You can purchase our magazine at www.photographerswithoutborders.org/pwbmagazine. Our next Issue launches online May 1st. We are also always looking for other ways to grow and to raise awareness for our organizations and have many exciting things in the works.
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There is an upcoming photojournalism course with PWB in Cambodia. How does a course with PWB differ from a travel experience one may have visiting a country?
Our workshops are the best of both worlds: exploring a new country & learning while traveling. We make sure that there is still a “vacation” aspect to the trip where we are seeing the major sights of the country and then as well as the traveling, you get to learn and refresh any current photography skills you may have or don’t have. We teach the students Portraiture, Lighting, Ethics, Storytelling and more! While this is a “vacation” and an opportunity to explore new places, it is also a learning opportunity and what you get out of the workshop depends what you put into it. If you jump right in and get out of your comfort zone, you will not only grow as a photographer but will have an amazing time meeting people and experiencing new things.

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Can you describe the relationship your subjects have to the camera when you were in these countries. What were their thoughts and reactions and hopes attached to being documented?
Every country is different and every person you meet is different. When I was in Guatemala, I wanted the children to be comfortable with me and be okay with me taking their photo and it took me sitting with them at lunch one day, and letting them take my camera and run around capturing photos through their own eyes. When I showed the children those photos, their faces lit up as if they realized the power of the camera. From then on, I was able to be invisible and capture the candidness and truth that would happen day to day. Some countries I have traveled too, there are sensitive times you are not allowed to take photos and you need to be very respectful of those moments and people. When in Colombia, I was invited to a prayer ceremony with the chief of the local Indigenous tribe and he encouraged us to participate (sans camera). As much as I would love to have photos of this experience, I am more grateful for living in the moment and taking in the experience without my camera and that memory, will forever only be mine.
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How did these trips change you and then in turn change you as a photographer in any setting?
On a personal level, my eyes have opened up to a whole new appreciation of what I have but also what is really happening around the world. I hope that by people like us sharing stories and spreading awareness, it will help the world improve the quality of life for those who need help and I hope I inspire others to use their voice, even if it’s small, to do their part when possible. As a photographer, I have learnt and grown SO much in the last two years. I have improved not only as a visual story teller but also just as a human.
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When you are selecting your photographs from each country you have been to what is your criteria for a picture that communicates your experience?

When choosing my final photos, I of course am looking for the best quality images but those images, need to tell the story perfectly. A huge part of this, is field notes and captions of photos. While on projects, taking notes of key people, important stories, and facts really help to chose the right photos upon return. You want to have captions and notes on the key people in the story so you can bring a personal aspect to the story where the viewer can relate and appreciate (and hopefully be inspired).

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