The Visual Advocate Blog

Interview with Humanitarian Photographer Gary Chapman


I can’t believe it has already been a week since I posted the interview of Mario Mattei, how time flies when you are having fun!

Anyway, I heard from many of you that were either encouraged by what Mario had to say and/or you were totally surprised that something like The International Guild of Visual Peacemakers even existed. It does! And there are so many other great folks and organizations out there like The IGVP. So if you are a visual peacemaker out there in cyberspace reading this leave some comments so we can be encouraged!

Today’s interview is with a great photographer and visual peacemaker named Gary Chapman. As is so often true in our age of social networking, Gary and I have never met but we been dialoguing a bit over Facebook and email. I am a great fan of his work and the ethos behind what he does so I am excited to interview him.

Gary is a working humanitarian photographer with a very photo-journalistic style that makes him great at helping Non-profits, NGO’s and Corporations communicate their vision through powerful and moving visual stories. I hope you enjoy the interview!

Also, while there are ton of great interviews of Gary, I did want to draw your attention to Matt Brandon’s Depth of Field podcast interview with Gary, it is a great one where you can hear Gary expound more on his passions and his work.

When and how did you get your start in photography?

I was working as a soda jerk (a guy that mixes sodas and ice-cream at a drugstore) as a teenager in the early 70’s to help pay for my film and processing. A studio photographer came in for his daily limeade and wanted to look at my shots. He then hired me to be his apprentice, which meant I swept floors, worked on client orders and eventually even shot some. From there it was on to college to study photojournalism and then a career working for newspapers and freelance stock photography.

When and how did you first become involved in using your photography to advocate on behalf of humanitarian issues, peoples and cultures?

White working for newspapers, most of our vacations were spent overseas taking photos for various Christian aid and mission groups. I am responding to your questions from the paradigm of a Christian worldview. Our purpose that drives our passion is 1-There is a God, 2-He loves us, 3-He wants us to love others. And what is true love?… that we lay down our lives for others.

In 1993 we went into business for ourselves shooting commercial stock. The benefit of this move was that it allowed us to spend more time working for aid groups. We went one step further after I covered both Katrina and the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005. Both of these events convinced me to put our full effort behind NGO photography.

What are the humanitarian issues you are most passionate about, photographically speaking and why?

I am most passionate about covering issues that involve children, persecuted Christian minorities and disaster situations. Why? I have to believe these are God-given desires. Others are interested in environmental issues, sex-trafficking etc. I go after what has been placed in my heart.

How have you seen your visual advocacy bring real change to the peoples or issues you are passionate about capturing photographically?

Quantitative measurement of the value of this type of photography is difficult to find. However, one by one I see results.  I see a Pakistani girl in a school my photos support. I see an orphan carrying home a new pair of shoes and a winter coat. I see children eating a full plate of rice, meat and fruit. I don’t look at the big picture as much as I look at a single individual helped.

What are some future humanitarian photography projects you are excited about and why?

I hope to return to Pakistan and work on a story about a school where Muslims and Christians are peacefully studying side by side.

What is the most challenging part of using your photography to tell visual stories about humanitarian issues around the world?

The most challenging aspect of this type of photography is finding ways to fund projects. We need to do a better job of educating the NGO staffs of the need for clear and meaningful photojournalistic images.

In your opinion what are the most important skills and equipment one needs to be effective in advocating on behalf of peoples and cultures?

The most important thing to possess as a photographer is a genuine love and concern for the people you are photographing. People can sense whether you are really trying to help them or if you are more concerned about winning a photo contest.

What is that drives you personally to use photography to advocate on behalf of others?

Here is a verse from the Bible that I think everyone can get behind whether you are a Christian or not: “Defend the poor and fatherless. Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy and free them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4). Once you see the need there is no choice of doing nothing. I may not be able to help thousands since I am not a doctor or humanitarian logistician. But I can help the ONE that comes across my path.

What advice would you give to others who want to begin to visually advocate on behalf of the peoples and cultures of the world?

Don’t just start doing this because it is cool and you love exotic travel. This is a difficult business. Really look closely at the needs. Love the people and help the people God puts in your life. And once you start down this road, don’t give up. There are a million potholes but the reward of helping others is well worth the trouble.


Author: The Visual Advocate

Joe Murray, The Visual Advocate, is a Humanitarian and Cultural photographer based in Decatur, Georgia. Joe began his photographic career as an adventure and landscape photographer, but a month-long trip to India in 2009 deeply impacted him and proved to be a turning point in his life and photographic vision. Today, Joe is dedicated to using his craft to create and share compelling images and stories of the lives of the peoples and cultures of the world. While Joe loves and appreciates all the peoples and cultures of the world, he has a particular vision, passion and love for India and South Asia. As both an experienced photographer, public speaker, recruiter and advocate, Joe's goal as a visual artist is not simply to create awareness, but to move people to use their lives and resources to be a blessing to the world's most poor, abused, displaced, stereotyped and overlooked peoples.

2 thoughts on “Interview with Humanitarian Photographer Gary Chapman

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