Putting justice for women and girls in the picture
Annie Griffiths was one of the first female full-time photojournalists at National Geographic magazine. Covering assignments in nearly 150 countries, starting in the late 1970s, has allowed her the privilege of bearing witness to the resilience, grit, and determination of women and girls around the world. In a TEDxSanJoaquin talk, she explains that it is through these women that she has learned “what makes the world go round.” One photograph, however, taken at a refugee camp in Northern Kenya, would not only be the cause of Griffiths questioning the effectiveness of her work, but would eventually be the catalyst for the founding of a nonprofit, Ripple Effect Images, that uses the power of photography and video to impact the lives of women and children around the globe.
The Kakuma Refugee Camp had been labeled one of the harshest camps on Earth and was home to roughly 90,000 people, some of whom had been there for as long as a decade. In 2004, Griffiths photographed a Somali woman, named Marwah, and her sick baby, and amidst the emotionally overwhelming backdrop of the camp, she explains, she began asking herself how she “could possibly make a dent” in the conditions that she was framing with her lens. The seasoned journalist, who’d been shooting for the better part of 40 years, has described it as a crisis moment when she “almost walked away.”
Griffiths had already begun working with aid organizations around the world and was in Virginia in the office of a refugee organization when she saw her image of Marwah, torn from a calendar, hanging on the wall. “She’s doing great,” the coordinator informed Griffiths, who grasped to understand how the person in front of her actually knew the woman whom she’d photographed two years prior. With elation, she learned that Marwah and her family had since settled in northern New York, she was employed, and her family was thriving.
From her camera’s memory card to the eyes of people capable of making a positive change in the lives of the disenfranchised and dispossessed, Griffith’s photo made an impact, and she was inspired by an idea. She called her friends, including Ami Vitale and Lynn Johnson, who are some of the best photojournalists in the world, and proposed they formulate a mission to work together with aid organizations to cover programs that empower women and give them the opportunity to take control of their lives and the lives of their daughters. They said “yes,” and Ripple Effect Images was born.
Ripple Effect Images is a nonprofit collective of award-winning photographers, writers, and filmmakers who, since 2010, have been dedicated to helping aid organizations that empower women and girls in the developing world to tell their stories. Issues and solutions covered are in seven key areas: food, water, health, education, energy, economic empowerment, and climate change impact. Since 2010 they’ve created 30 films, and they house a photo archive of more than 30,000 images. Through this body of work, they have helped their beneficiaries raise a total of more than $10 million.
Griffiths says that the work of Ripple Effect leverages the power of photography to invoke change: “Photography has the ability to grab a person’s attention and certainly humanize an individual or a situation so that the viewer is drawn in and hopefully reads more and learns more. I think great photography can instantly connect with people and they then want to know more, and if they know more they will tend to empathize more. So I think that the power of photography and film is crucial to getting messages out that are important.
Pardada Pardadi is a rural development organization in Uttar Pradesh, India, that has benefited, significantly, from the “Ripple Effect.” Situated in one of the most underdeveloped regions in the country, the organization was contacted by Griffiths, and in 2013 a film, “Ten Rupees,” was made by filmmaker Michael Davie that focuses mainly on the organization’s school and the unique formula it utilizes to uplift the lives of girls. For each day a girl attends school at Pardada Pardadi, ten rupees is deposited into an account to be used by her once she graduates. It’s a brilliant method of investing in a girl’s future independence to prevent dependence on a boy or his family, and Griffiths recognized how the skills of her team could help to amplify their message.
Renuka Gupta, the CEO of Pardada Pardadi, explains: “That film helped us to take our work to various forums because everybody was in love with that film, everybody wanted to know more about our organization once they saw it.” The organization uses the film for fundraisers with sister organizations in the U.S., U.K., and Canada and whenever anyone wants to know more about their operations. Of their association with Ripple Effect Images, Gupta says, “It’s a great relationship between two organizations — a true example of how the strength of one organization can give power to another organization who’s at the grassroots. We know getting people like this, of such high repute, is very expensive. If I had to pay I could never dream of getting it made.”
Photojournalist Lynn Johnson, who has been on board with Griffiths since Ripple’s inception, was part of the team working at Pardada Pardadi. She followed the story of a woman rescuing herself and her daughters from her abusive husband. “It was incredible to be in the presence of all that power, female power, and not wanting to give up. Sometimes it’s difficult to funnel that into a visual reality. I think in this case it worked fairly well because the girls were working hard in school and they spoke to what it was like to earn money, which they did as they went to school every day.”
Johnson describes one of her photographs that was taken at the school in India. She is looking at the print, which is hanging on the wall of her office, as she speaks: “It’s of a girl sitting on the steps doing her math, and she’s counting on her fingers. I just loved the sensibility of those kids and how they connected to one another and held onto each other. The idea of a girls’ school where it’s an all-female space where they can learn in a protected space was quite powerful.”
By covering one or two assignments a year for Ripple, Johnson discovers new challenges as a photographer. “Working for Ripple I tend to be a little less cynical. Going into the field journalistically I have a more jaundiced eye — sort of looking for the dark side. Annie encourages us to look for the light side, which was really hard to do after 40 years behind the camera. That’s the struggle, for sure. In the end, the mission really is the same, to use photography to improve people’s awareness about significant issues, and in the case of Ripple it’s significant issues relating to women.”
For Griffiths, the most rewarding part of founding the organization is about showing the potential of women and girls and portraying them as “full human beings” because “so much of the media paints with a single brush, and it’s poor women as ‘victims’ and ‘tragedies,’ when in fact they are the glue that holds their communities together.”
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