The Visual Advocate Blog

Interview with Humanitarian Photographer Matt Powell

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I wish I could say the reason for me posting this interview late was because I was in some far-flung exotic place with no internet access but alas that would be a lie! The reality is that between kids, work, family and the craziness of life, some things get pushed back, and this interview was one of those things.

Nevertheless, I am excited to post this short interview with Humanitarian Photographer Matt Powell. As a Photographer and Multimedia Producer for Samaritan’s Purse, Matt has traveled on assignment to over 40 different countries documenting relief & development work among communities in need and in transition. His images raise private, charitable donations worldwide.

In addition to his work with Samaritan’s Purse, Matt is also a guild member with The International Guild of Visual Peacemakers and will be leading an exciting photo workshop with Matt Brandon in Turkey soon, you won’t want to miss this!

Before you check out this interview, make sure to check out Matt’s stunning portfolio!

I hope you enjoy what Matt has to say!

When and how did you get your start in photography?

High school art class was when I got my 1st SLR & took it seriously as an art form.  It grew from there into a serious hobby, part-time income, to full-time staff job.

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

I traveled to some remote corners of northern Vietnam back in 2000.  While there we visited some of the minority hill tribes who were being severely persecuted by the govt.  Much of what we did was capture & tell their story.

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

Through my work, whatever the subject may be, I’m simply interested in helping foster & facilitate a global humanitarian ethos. I want to reveal the beauty of mankind with my photographs, & in doing so inspire others who see my work to care for others & help make the world a better place in whatever form that takes.  On a personal level this comes as a natural extension to my christian faith. I happen to believe that we were all created in the image of a loving god & that every life is sacred.  I want my work to spread that notion.

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

I see it every day in the form of donations raised to further our relief & development projects.  Not to mention that the organization I work for partners with the church in every location possible, it’s great to see the church strengthened & coming together all over the world to do good works & be a true example of love & compassion.

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

I’m hoping to visit Congo this Spring to document the work of Samaritan’s Purse.  I’m excited because I’ve never been to Congo.  It has a very trouble past, plus a difficult situation currently due to increased instability from the Lord’s Resistance Army.  By working there I hope to shine a little light & love on a very dark situation.  Plus, I just love Africa!

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

It can be difficult photographing people in need.  Which is one reason why I choose to focus on & glorify the beauty truth & goodness of every person & situation.  As opposed to the evil & hopelessness.

How have you seen your photography help change the way your viewers see the world and the different peoples and cultures you have encountered and photographed?

I can’t say I’ve seen people change as a result of my pictures since I’ve never met most of the people who view my work but I have heard back from people in the past about how an image they saw perhaps in some of our promotional materials truly grabbed their heart & caused them to want to give.  I also hear from many photographers who’ve encountered my website & are moved by my work & inspired to do something similar.  That is what it’s all about for me inspiring people to do something on their own. Art is great because it spreads.

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

Passion, commitment & love for others.  And perhaps a good DSLR & a computer.

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

My faith.  The love & motivation that has been given to me by god to do what I can to make the world a better place.

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

Start where you are now & just do it.


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.

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