Month: May 2013

Seven most important reasons why a good photograph matters

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Not a Crime - Chris Steele-Perkins
Not a Crime – Chris Steele-Perkins (Photo credit: Eleven Eight)

We all see images everyday, many of these photos. Thousands and thousands of images.

And we instinctively ‘know’ what makes a good image, but explaining it is not always that easy. Listening to three Magnam photographers visiting Sydney this months for the Head On photo festival was instructive. Here are a list of the most important reasons Shahidul Alam, Eli Reed and Chris Steele-Perkins gave from their talks and interviews at Head On. Worth reflecting on…

1. People in the villages do not exist. News is not about them, not for them. People in problems of a massive scale will exist as numbers, not individuals. (Alam)

2. The power of an image…Those are the stories that often don’t get told. It is challenging the sources of power. (Alam)

3. Photography changes the world. Things we can do at a personal, finite level that make a difference. Those small, tactile, little steps…it certainly made a difference to me. (Alam)

4. Everything changes the world at one point. It is an aggregate thing….Grains of sand on the right side of the justice scale. (Steele-Perkins)

5. Photography for me has been this fantastic passport to the world. (Steele-Perkins)

6. Some people say photography doesn’t work. Screw that. It does work. I have seen the difference it makes…Photographs can change the world. Just think of the Holocaust. (Reed)

7. This list won’t be the same without your contribution too. I saved the last word for you. Leave your reason below on a comment, or at Facebook or Twitter, and I will update this post. 


What makes a good photograph?

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selfie with eli reed
Selfie with Eli Reed. Thanks to JJ Halans for posting!

Have you checked out the Head On Festival in Sydney. You really must. Just opened last night at the Gaffa Gallery on Clarence Street is an engaging exhibition featuring some wonderful photographers across two levels.

Early in May as part of Head On, Magnum photographers Shahidul Alam and Eli Reed, along with Benjamin Lowy, recipient of the Magnum Foundation Emergency fund, suggested a good photo has the following characteristics:

“Telling stories. It is what it does to people that matters. Is it going to bring about change?” (Lowy)

“Ambiguity and encouraging questions, as well as to tell stories. The photograph asks more good questions than it answers.” (Lowy)

“It is inherently captivating. There is a truth and beauty about the story.” (Lowy)

“When things are photographed in a particular way, what do we lose? Complexity of the stories often doesn’t come across when we provide a simple rendering.” (Alam)

“Be a fair witness, not overdoing it, otherwise you will mess it up…Look at what’s happening. It’s not a game, but it is the ultimate game. Pay attention.” (Reed)

“Fascination with life. That is what it means to be a humane human being. Being a human being first (not a photographer). It is it’s own reward.” (Reed)

Advice from a Master Story-Teller

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Photograph (Photo credit:

It is worth listening to Ridley Scott who gives good instruction in this clip below titled Life In A Day. It was part of a collaborative video project he started in 2010, the same year that the 10 City Bridge Run commenced as an idea.

Scott gives two good pieces of advice in telling a story through capturing an image:

  • It must be personal.
  • Capture what appeals to you as the photographer/curator.

Great advice from a master story-teller.

Tell your story through photo in our photo collaboration. Anyone can enter, and there is no cost to submit a photo.

The Importance of Connection” is a photo collaboration on the theme of a ‘human bridge’. The best 100 photographs selected from among this collaboration will be captured in a book called “Life Bridge: The Importance of Connection”.

Find out more details or submit an entry here.

Photographs might express one of four particular themes:

  • Tell a story. Provide an interpretation of “a human bridge”,
  • Bridge the Imagination Gap,
  • Connect the Near and the Far, and/or
  • “With empathy comes connection”.

Connect like you give a damn! It won’t be the same without you.

We want your photo!

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Mother and child. The most important human bridge?
Mother and child. The most important human bridge?

Not just any photo. We are collecting photos on the theme of a ‘human bridge’ for a book that has been a while in the making called Life Bridge: The Importance of Connection.

Feeling creative? Please join us on this journey by submitting a photo of your human bridge.

There are two quotes which frame an ‘artistic brief’ for this project drawing inspiration from Bill Shore’s inspirational 2010 book: “The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men”.

The first quote is written by Bill Shore himself where he describes “the imagination gap: a narrow but vitally important space between the impractical and impossible.” He writes:

The imagination gap is a place where hope lies waiting to be discovered, and cannot be extinguished once it has. Most failures in life are not failures of resources, or organisation, or strategy or discipline. They are failures of imagination.

The second quote is taken from a graduation speech by Ophelia Dahl (cofounder of Partners in Health and daughter of renowned children’s book author Roald Dahl) when she quoted Adam Hochschild who earlier wrote about the importance of “drawing connections between the near and the distant”:

Linking our own lives and fates with those we can’t see will, I believe, be the key to a decent and shared future… Imagination will allow you to make the link between the near of your lives with the distant others and will lead us to realise the plethora of connections between us and the rest of the world… and this will surely lead to ways in which you can influence others and perhaps improve the world along the way.

The compilation of this book funds the 10 City Bridge Run which is a citizen led initiative that asks a simple, but important, question: “how might we use our networks to improve child survival?” The image of a ‘human bridge’ helps to illustrate this question.

So please, help us out and send us a photo of your human bridge. It won’t be the same without you!

If only More Joyous: Australia’s aid budget

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Senator Bob Carr, Minister for Foreign Affairs...
Senator Bob Carr, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia (CMAG Deputy Chair) (Photo credit: Commonwealth Secretariat)

John Singleton arrived to the More Joyous Inquiry today, and was described by the waiting pack of journalists as a “rockstar”. Everyone had a bit of a joke, and John Singleton batted away the flattering attention. A short time later, Tom Waterhouse who seems to always be smiling regardless of the situation, arrived with no comment. The camera and journalists were in force, and hungry for news.

There is a curious video on this link from today’s proceedings. It is a shame that this short of exposure isn’t given to issues of a little more substance. It is like watching an unbearable pantomime. If only it really was a comedy…:

Meanwhile Bob Carr, the Australian Foreign Minister was speaking on ABC Radio confirming weeks of speculation that Labor’s goal of increasing aid spending to 0.5 per cent of gross national income has been delayed for another year. The Federal Budget will be delivered this week in Canberra, and is going to be stretched significantly into a deficit. Bob Carr explained this matter-of-factly:

It simply reflects the reality that you can’t borrow money to spend on aid. (Bob Carr, Australian Foreign Minister)

Australia is now the third largest recipient of our aid budget after Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, with the majority of the money being spent back on ourselves catering for the needs of asylum seekers intercepted by boat.

Far from a comment about the politicisation of aid, this is more a pragmatic reflection of what can be expected moving forward. Not everything the Government promises will it be able to deliver. There are no surprises there, and while it is disappointing, it is also reality.

How will this affect the Millennium Development Goals? Some advocates for aid, such as Tim Costello will say that it will cost the lives of over a million people across the next four years. While this might be partly true as an assumption, it shows that we need to look beyond government assistance alone to combat these problems.

This is not the first time governments have failed to deliver on their promises with aid. In 2010 at the United Nations General Assembly, many governments pointed to the recent global financial crisis are behind their inability to make progress with combatting poverty.

The rise of philanthropy has been of great significance to combatting extreme poverty in the last decade. But that is neither a silver bullet nor the answer. The answer must be found beyond a reliance on aid and philanthropy.

It calls for intervention for many people, including people just like you and me, but not necessarily by throwing loose coins into buckets or being assaulted by the Charity Muggers at the local train station. No, it is time that we looked to more innovative solutions by bridging what already exists and helping through our networks to bring that to scale.

This is the idea behind the 10 City Bridge Run, and by working together we can make an enormous difference to issues such as the delivery of child survival.

It would be nice if things were indeed More Joyous for the aid budget, but that simply is not that case. All the while, we are distracted by circuses such as the tedious and banal “he said/she said” from colourful racing identities in front of an insatiable media pack. Nothing joyous about that. There are more important issues which deserve great attention. And that too, sadly, is reality.

Beneath the surface are seeds of possibility

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"The" Sir Ken Robinson
“The” Sir Ken Robinson (Photo credit: TimWilson)

Another inspiring talk from Sir Ken Robinson through TED, again calling for a revolution in education delivery.

At first glance, education might seem to have little to do with child survival, and in the context of this talk that is largely true. However, towards the end of the talk, he speaks about the role of culture and leadership for creating change. Inspiring stuff, and lessons we can use in other areas and not only in changing education. Great presentation technique. I don’t think he took one step in all 19 minutes of speaking. No powerpoint. Just the appeal of personality and persuasion through reasoned argument.

Here is the first thing that struck me, talking about the role of culture to influence opportunity:

(Paraphrased) The culture is absolutely essential…Right near the surface are seeds of possibility waiting for the right conditions come about in order to spring to life…. Not ‘Command and Control’, but the real role of leadership is ‘Climate Control’. Creating a climate of possibility.

The second point to note was about leadership:

Benjamin Franklin said there are three sorts of people in the world: there are people who are unmovable…, people who are movable…, and there are people who move.

This is what we need for a revolution. Move leaders who move.

Every day is Mothers Day, but especially today

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Out the front of our old house, many years ago...
Out the front of our old house, many years ago…

Can we ever thank our mothers enough for the gift of bringing us safely into the world?

Life is not always one big party, but it is wonderful to stop and remember all of the good things that we share, and all the reasons to be thankful for our mothers.

I have enjoyed watching my friends on Facebook record their journey as first time mums. It is a wonderful to experience their joy vicariously. Today, for all of you, I hope it is a very special day.

Mothers Day is not universal to this date. Iran was last week, Thailand is 12 August, and on it goes. And neither should it be limited to only one date. Every day should be a reason to say thank you.

So today, to my Mum especially, thank you.

Next Steps: Relaunch Party

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We're having a party...
We’re having a party…

Attention turns to planning the ReLaunch Party for the 10 City Bridge Run.

It has been a while in the making, and not without a few set-backs and challenges. Celebrating the commencement of this journey at the ReLaunch Party will be all the sweeter thinking about the obstacles overcome to get to this point. It wasn’t possible without your support and encouragement.

The ReLaunch Party is planned to be held in Sydney towards the end of July/early August. Adam Spencer has made himself available to be the emcee for the evening (depending on the date and his other commitments).

Theme, entertainment, speakers, location, time, date and registration details? Will be addressing those soon, and if you would like to get involved by volunteering to help with the ReLaunch Party, please let us know!

Connect like you give a damn!

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English: Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Archi...
English: Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity and an accomplished designer from New York, in 2008 demanded of designers at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York to “design like you give a damn!” He argued:

Forget these chandeliers and overpriced sofas; forget the whole New York design scene. Look to Africa and India, to the places where design is a matter of life or death.

During the 10 City Bridge Run, we are asking you to ‘connect like you give a damn!

No one can effectively ‘do bridging’ on their own. Our networks are possibility factories, but only if we choose to use them.

What if women held the answers?

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Young girl. Papua New Guinea
Young girl. Papua New Guinea (Photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection)

It has been over a month since I last posted, and in that time I have been busy. Busy thinking.

In March, I attended the Commonwealth Study Conference (known by its acronym CSCLeaders) across London, Glasgow and Oxford for what turned out to be an extraordinary gathering of 100 leaders from around the Commonwealth.

I was profoundly influenced by women I met at the recent CSCLeaders conference, especially those from across Africa, India, Pakistan, other parts of Asia and the Pacific.

Returning to Sydney, I attended a conference at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute which focused on Papua New Guinea. Again, there I was influenced greatly by the women who I spoke with.

Often, my conversation turned to the issue of child survival. These were seemingly ordinary women, and most of them mothers. Few of them were ‘experts’ in child mortality- there experience was found in other areas, but all of them had expert advice to offer.

I made me think:

What might this look like if women held the answers?

This is not to say that men have nothing to contribute. Far from it. It is an equally relevant question for men to address as for women. So much so, that the orientation of the design forum for the 10 City Bridge Run will be framed using this question.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts too. Do you think this question is helpful? Could it be expressed better?