‘A New Beginning‘ was born from my desire to support and empower refugee women as they begin to reshape their lives and start anew.
My goal was to show the community and the world how brave and powerful these women are and how they can inspire us all. I wanted the project to be about having a voice, allowing these women to see themselves in the images with their children and focusing on their future. I felt like these women had been through enough – I didn’t want to highlight any of their pain and suffering. My specialty in birth, newborn and family photography has naturally progressed to an overall theme in my work, the empowerment of women.
Here’s how it all began:
I’m not typically so fancy or organized, but on that particular day I prepared a hot cup of tea before diving into the newest issue of Click. I guess I subconsciously knew I’d be doing a lot of soul-searching that day. I reached an article that called to me and wouldn’t let me go. It was an article about a group called PhotoPhilanthropy, an organization dedicated to helping photographers connect with nonprofits to promote social change. I put the magazine down directly after completing the article and spent nearly an hour reading through each and every page of their website. It was exciting for me to have a place to go where I could find resources on how to get started with a photo essay and to browse through others successful projects to use as inspiration.
The first photo essay idea I had, a world-wide birth photography project, required so much time and planning that I knew I couldn’t commit to it just yet. There were just too many obstacles – cost, travel, time away from my young children and, of course, the logistics. Selecting a comparable photo essay to begin with was challenging. I felt like everything I wanted to photograph required extensive planning and wouldn’t be as ideal as an introductory project. Plus, I was having a difficult time finding an organization to work with. It was terribly intimidating.
Fortunately, I’m not the type to keep dreams and hopes buried inside. Instead, I constantly brought it up to my closest family and friends and began making connections and networking, in the hopes that someday the right project would come along. For me, throwing those ideas out into the universe and owning them was the first step in finding my way into the world of photo essays. Perhaps this is just a simple case of the squeaky wheel getting the oil, but I’d prefer to think of it as the power of thought.
Finally, after several months of laying the groundwork, my friend Sarah Behshad contacted me with the idea and connections to get me started photographing refugee women. I was thrilled, but still I knew it would require a lot of me. It would be a huge commitment with great responsibility. I knew it would be wise for me to spend some time researching the organization I’d be collaborating with, even though I had heard about them multiple times. I needed to know that this was not only something I believed in and felt inspired by, but that this was also an organization I thought may be a potential lifetime collaborator. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do more of this work in the future.
Working with the International Rescue Committee has been such an honor. I can’t say enough about how important the work is that IRC does for our global community. Their dedication to providing support for women is especially something I want to promote. And their words are paralleled with my own beliefs:
The recovery of communities devastated by war relies heavily on the participation of women and girls. The IRC works to foster conditions in which women and girls not only survive the effects of conflict but ultimately thrive.
Sarah, the brain-child and project manager of the photo essay, is someone I hope to work with in the future. Having a project manager was absolutely vital to this particular project’s success. Sarah worked around the clock organizing the venue, gallery possibilities, press correspondents and setting up the interviews, which was incredibly difficult with so many schedules to work around. She had so many ideas for the exhibition of this project, too. Her input for the slideshow, food, and collecting much-needed donations was integral to the project’s success. Also, without our knowledgeable and supportive case manager Andrea Hammonds, it would have been incredibly difficult to gain the trust of the refugee families, and therefore, the stories wouldn’t have been authentic and wouldn’t have served a purpose for the women.
In the future, I’d like to continue working with organizations that promote social change. I already have a few project ideas in the works and my birth project will come to fruition in time. I know I’d like to continue photographing women and children especially. Working with these families shook something inside me. It’s made me a more understanding person in all areas of my life and nurtured my empathetic bones. I’ve met the most incredible children with so much potential to make this country a better place. I want the world to know about them, to recognize them, to help them succeed.
To see their inspiring stories and the images from this project, as well as offer your support and donations, you can visit my blog at A New Beginning. If you’re local, please join us for the celebratory reception at MOCA in downtown Tucson on June 14, 2014 at 3PM.