I never know how to begin, but it’s definitely an honor to be back here on Scott’s website doing a guest blog. The entire photo community is better because Scott is in it. He’s as good a communicator and educator as he is a human being and a friend, so thank you Scott (and Brad) for having me.
You may know me from previous posts, or perhaps you’ve seen me in the background helping some photographers much more talented than myself (like the awesome Robby Klein who took the photo of me), but people usually know me as a sports guy. And yes, most of my living comes from shooting sports. If you are disappointed to find that today I won’t be talking about sports, hit me up on Instagram and we can talk sports all day long.
Today I want to talk to you about a job I recently did for the international non-profit organization BGR. It has always been my desire to do this type of humanitarian work, and I am thrilled to share some images from my time in Guatemala earlier this month. As with any organization, visual content is needed to both document the current projects and increase awareness of the work being done. In addition to this, I was helping to create stills content for their gift catalog that I will talk about later. As you could imagine, I was thrilled when they chose me to help them with their mission and tell some of their stories.
If anyone wants to know the backstory on how the job came about I would be happy to share, but as in a lot of cases as a freelancer, I don’t think this one could be duplicated. It comes down to relationships and being who you are. People know that they want you as the person, as well as you the photographer. As a freelancer, you do your best to chase down leads, get jobs, and have meetings with folks who you want to work with, but this job wasn’t something that could have been planned if I tried. My time working as a sports photographer led to some new relationships that brought me to my first international assignment with such a great organization.
BGR is an international non-profit with a heart for helping people in desperate need. They help in two primary ways: Disaster Relief and Community Development. First is their response to major crises such as natural disasters, personal trauma, or social upheaval. Second is addressing chronic conditions, such as extreme poverty, contaminated water, and endemic hunger through community development. I got to witness and document all of this on the ground. With faith at their origin, BGR seeks to demonstrate the love of God so that people in need have the opportunity to experience the full and meaningful lives God created them to enjoy. Their desire is to see people live their lives with hope and peace, inspired to raise their families in confidence, build their communities with dignity and share this life with others.
One of my favorite things I learned about BGR while on the job was how they work with local partners to respond to people with critical needs. All of their projects help families and communities become self-sufficient by implementing culturally appropriate and sustainable solutions to serious issues. I got to witness this first hand while in Guatemala, following along Area Directors Jo and David Brown, who have been working with people affected by the Volcán del Fuego eruption earlier this year. The people in this area we visited have had their entire livelihoods demolished, or at the very least disrupted, by this natural disaster.
These previous two images are from the San Miguel Los Lotes community that was completely destroyed by lava flow. The destruction was so bad that the community was designated as a national cemetery by the Government of Guatemala. Some of the surrounding communities were completely cut off as a result of lava filling riverbeds, leading to water being rerouted and covering the roads.
Coming into someone’s personal space can be difficult, but especially people who are in such need following a major disaster like this one. It was important to me as the photographer to prioritize the dignity and respect of the people we were meeting and talking with over creating a nice image. Establishing a comfort level is something difficult to learn. People generally can tell when you are being genuine, and it was difficult with a language barrier, but I tried to make sure the people I met knew I was there to highlight their accomplishments, not their pain. I hope I was able to create some nice images, but not at the expense of people in need.
After sitting and talking with folks, most were happy and excited to show off the work they were doing to help their neighbors and the projects they were accomplishing for their community. The people I interacted with and got to know on this trip were happy to have their story told, and I was so happy to help tell it.
In addition to the disaster relief, I also got to witness some wonderful community development projects. These projects ranged from business classes where people learn how to take a skill and turn it into a business to help provide for their family, to water and sanitation projects to help smaller communities build an infrastructure where they can get plumbing to their homes and waste away from their homes.
For those of you wondering, almost the entire trip was shot with a Canon 1Dx mark II and a 50mm 1.2 lens. Occasionally I got out the 16-35mm f/4 lens. All the aerial work was shot with the DJI Phantom 4 Pro. The images were edited in Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw using VSCO presets as a starting point and fine-tuned to my liking from there. Most of the light was natural but I also brought a single strobe and 1.5’x1.5’ soft box.
I could talk for days about the wonderful work this organization is doing, but I will end with this. If you would like to see more work BGR is doing or if you would like to get your Christmas shopping started early, the BGR Christmas catalog is a great way to give back as we approach the holiday season. There are plenty of great organizations out there, and if you have one you already support, awesome.
But if you don’t, giving back to others in need is a great way to start off your holiday season. The catalog isn’t just donations. You can purchase specific items or donate towards special projects that you feel are important. Anything from $3 to buy someone fish that helps combat hunger, provides for a family, helps build a well, or combats human trafficking. BGR has a wide range of efforts and I would encourage you to help others who are most in need.
You can even order a catalog if you want to get together as a family and decide together how to help. Maybe they don’t like fish and want to buy a goat?
You can find out more about BGR at GoBGR.org. You can see more of Donald’s work at DonaldPage.com, and keep up with him on Instagram and Twitter.