The Visual Advocate Blog


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What makes someone a “photographer?”

These are two pictures of my son taken by my wife who loves taking pictures with her Iphone but doesn’t consider herself a photographer because she doesn’t use “big” cameras like I do.

The last few days I have had various conversations with people who love to create images of food, their kids and other subjects that are important to them. What has struck me about all of these conversations is that each time, at some point in the conversation, everyone has said to me something like “I love taking pictures, but I am not a photographer”.

This got me thinking about what makes someone a photographer. In my opinion if someone loves creating images and living a visual life, then they are a photographer. Now they may not make money from their images, have the best equipment or even be that great of a photographer but who cares! If they love exploring the world visually and creating images of things they love than I say they are a photographer!

The reality is that no matter where any of us are in photographic journeys, we all need to be learning more about craft and sharpening our vision and style. I have been a photographer for over 15 years and I feel like I am constantly learning more about my craft and how to create images and stories that not only move me but also resonate with others.

So as David Duchemin has mentioned in past rants let’s forget the labels of “Professional or “Amateur” and just focus on growing as photographers who do it because we love it.

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Free people find true success

Over the last couple of weeks I have been rolling a lot of different ideas around in my head, some photography related but mostly just about life in general. One thing I have been thinking about lately is how attractive “free” people are. Let me explain what I mean.

As I get older, I am realizing more and more how attractive people are who are not impressed with who they are, where they have been, what they have seen or accomplished or who they know. These people have dealt with and are dealing with their own fears, guilt and shame (the very things that keep us from being free people), which frees them up to be focused on others.

Now I am nowhere near perfect (and if you don’t believe me just ask my wife!), and I have definitely been THAT guy who talked about himself for like 15 minutes straight or tried to sell myself just a little too much, but I so want to be this kind of free person.

The other night I had the opportunity to talk to about 80 college students at the University of Georgia about which peoples and cultures in the world are in the greatest holistic need and how they can use their skills, passions and degrees to bless them. After the talk ended, I was in conversations with students for over an hour, just talking about what they are passionate about and how they can use what they love to change the world. It was so fun to not really share anything about me, but just to give these students permission to dream big!

So how does this relate to photography, and more specifically humanitarian and cultural photography? Well in my opinion, it has everything to do with our craft as photographers. If we are not becoming truly free people, we will not be able to really serve our clients and the peoples and cultures on whose behalf we create these image and stories. Instead, we will still be trying to make a name for ourselves, which will affect the way we do business and the way we approach our subjects and stories.

Now this doesn’t mean we give our work away free or volunteer for assignments for free, though it may me mean that in some circumstances. We as creatives absolutely need to be masters of our craft, which includes being smart and determined business people. Instead, what I think it means, is that we will be free to esteem our clients and the peoples and cultures we are photography higher than ourselves in every way possible, and if in nothing else, at least in our attitudes!

I could go on but I won’t. In closing, I just wanted to share some resources that have influenced my thinking as of late. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on what I have written here. In fact, we can help each other become people who are more free by sharing our stories.

Here are the resources:


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I am still alive!

For those of you who are following and may have, for just a second even, wondered if I was still alive I have good news for you…..I am! I have not blogged in several weeks due to a variety of things such as:

So amidst all those things I have been a little busy, but I thought I would finally take some time and sit down today to write. Many of you have asked for the story behind the Jesus Dialogue and the Muslim American Political Action Council Banquet, so I thought I would briefly share about these two events.

First, the Jesus Dialogue. The short story is that was a dialogue between followers of Jesus and Muslims about who Jesus is, according to their different faith perspectives. I had a great time at this event and was so encouraged and inspired to see so many examples of people of faith coming together to pursue a deeper and richer understanding of each others lives and faiths. The images below are just a few from the evening. I am working on putting together a photo story about the event, which I will hopefully get done soon. You can visit my website if you want to see more images of the Jesus Dialogue.

Muslim men bowing in prayer

Imam Sameh, talking to his table during the meal

Imam Sameh and a local pastor from Raleigh greeting each other

The next event I photographed was the 9th Annual Banquet for the Muslim American Political Action Council, which is an advocacy group for Muslims in the Raleigh, North Carolina area. The keynote speakers, Former American Senator Mark Siljander and the Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera News, Dr. Abderrahim Foukara, did a great job touching on sensitive but highly important issues.

Again, I am working on a longer photo story, but have posted a few images below. You can see more images of the Banquet on my website.

Mark Siljander addresses the crowd as the moderator, Maha Mokhtar Zaghloul, and Dr. Abderrahim Foukara listen.

During the event, many Muslims took time out to perform their prayers in the makeshift prayer room

Muslim performing their prayers

Another angle on their prayers

So there you have it! There’s a “snapshot” of what I have been up to lately. I really do count it a privilege to get to be one of just so many use my craft to tell stories of hope and reconciliation, especially in a day and age when our news channels are filled with images of hate, violence and war.

What is also great is how many chances I have, because of these images and opportunities, to share my experiences in the Muslim World with others. So I would love to hear from you. What questions do you have? What experiences have you had in your own photographic adventures and otherwise,  that have led you to move beyond stereotypes you once held? How, because of these experiences do you have a deeper and richer understanding, appreciation love for Muslims, Christians or other peoples, cultures or religions that are different than you!


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Home sweet home!

I am finally home from Cape Town, South Africa and what a trip it was! While I was there for a conference, which took most of my time, I did have a chance to sneek out and do some shooting in the mornings and evenings. Without a doubt, I spent the most time shooting in the Bo Kaap neighborhood, which turned out to be right across the street from my hotel.

As I said in my last post I was very excited about shooting in the Bo Kaap neighborhood, not only because of the vibrant colors but also the chance to interact with the Muslims living in the neighborhood. I have to say that Bo Kaap did not disappoint at all! The colors of almost all the houses were so vibrant and neon even that it almost feels like you are walking through a
3-d commercial for crayola crayons!

The people also turned out to be as bright and vibrant. One of my favorite conversations was with a 75 year old Muslim man named Mohammad Zain who I met on the last day of my trip. While his ancestors were originally from Yemen, Mohammad had lived in the same house for his entire life, which was true of many of the older residents of Bo Kaap I talked with. Anyway, Mohammad and I talked for over 45 minutes and even let me taste a doughnut that his wife made and sold every Sunday morning called a “Cooked Sister”. My only regret during my time in Bo Kaap was that I didn’t have more time to talk with more of the residents over a cup or three of chai tea. I guess that means I will have to take another trip to Cape Town someday!

In addition to getting to shoot almost every day in Bo Kaap, I also had the privilege of visiting a community development project called Sobambisana that was working in the Crossroads Township, among others, of Cape Town. It was a great day of shooting and interacting with the local kids and residents who were either at the school or volunteered with Sobambisana.

Click here to check out my Sobambisana gallery

Click here to check my Bo Kaap gallery

P.S. I also said I was going to start trying to tell some of the stories behind my images from India and other travels. I was going to start that while I was in South Africa but the internet was terrible. My aim is to start this next week….cross your fingers!


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A new trip and a little show and tell

Bo-Kaap, is one of the places in Capetown, South Africa I am hoping to get to photograph

In just about a week I will be heading to South Africa for two weeks. My primary reason for being there is for a conference, but I am hoping to find or make some time to get out into the city of Capetown to shoot a little. One area I have been reading a little about is a neighborhood called Bo-Kaap. It has cobblestone streets, brightly painted houses, and old Muslims shrines and mosques. It sounds like a colorful place, both because of its inhabitants, history and the architecture and style of the neighborhood. I will post some pictures when I get back.

Also, starting next week I am going to be posting a picture a week and
telling a story behind that picture. Since I just got back from India last month I will be “showing and telling” for a while about my three weeks there. The goal is to tell the stories behind the pictures. I am excited for this because India a place of fascinating people, colors and cultures.

So check back next week for the first show and tell.