I had to remind myself why I returned to Nicaragua as my flashlight beam danced across the 30 or so cockroaches staring defiantly at me from the walls of the tiny latrine and the hundreds more scurrying in and out of the depths that was to be my toilet for the next six weeks.
Oh right! Because I’m a photographer and a teacher and I love my job.
On an ordinary Thursday afternoon, I found myself in one of two wooden canoes loaded with food, clothes, medicine and eight Nicaraguans as we paddled towards a small island on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua. As a result of the photography, fundraising and planning of local Nicaraguans, we were bringing the supplies to an extremely remote and impoverished family.
Rosa Umanzor-Diaz was a photography student last year with my nonprofit, Picture Change. She is the community leader responsible for the continuation of photography in her village, Padre Ramos, and this adventure was entirely her project.
Hi. My name is Kate Gazaway, founder of Picture Change and this is what inspires me to run a photography-education nonprofit. Photography and the arts are a gift and, in the nature of true gifts, must be carried or passed along in some form, or they die. (I recommend Lewis Hyde’s book The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World for a thorough and unique explanation of this concept.) Picture Change was founded because of people like Rosa, and continues because of those who catch and further the vision of creative activism in their own lives and their communities.
The foundational principle of Picture Change is “Your story is (therefore you are) important because you exist and your circumstances do not define you.” Rosa, though living in relative poverty herself, uses the training and resources from Picture Change to not only take “pretty pictures” of her village, but document the life of her community in new ways, including educating others to do the same (passing on the gift). She has started her own photography business to generate income for her family and has used her photographs to launch online fundraising campaigns to raise awareness and aid for severely impoverished families in the area.
The concepts of gifts, gift-giving, and how I can incorporate them into teaching and art is both a challenge and inspiration. I am constantly humbled and amazed at my students and their communities in a “having nothing, yet possessing everything (2 Cor. 6:10)” sort of way, especially with Rosa, an empowered artist making an impact in her community.
We each have the potential to be mirrors reflecting light onto one another and simultaneously illuminating what’s around us. Reflect. Illuminate. Inspire. It’s what I, through Picture Change, aim to do for my students and what they absolutely have done for me.
Thank you so much, folks. And Jeremy especially, thank you for sharing your platform to promote ideas and change. I don't think anyone on here takes that lightly. I'll certainly be sure to keep you involved with Picture Change as much as possible. I'm using your "Hope in the DArk" book as a teaching tool in class next week, so already you're helping out :-) . And everyone else, thank you for the very kind responses on e-mail and Twitter that you've sent. You've all helped Picture Change move forward just by the encouragement alone. Thank you a million times over.
Kate, I so admire your vision and ability to conceive such an incredible nonprofit, Picture Change. The work you are doing around the world is inspiring - to see how your passion is being passed among different people groups is beautiful. Also, what is wonderful about Picture Change, is that it isn't simply a program where you go teach a photography class, and leave to go back home so you can share 'you adventures,' but you truly invest in the lives of the people you work with and immerse yourself in the culture to better cultivate lasting relationships with the people. Your students are left with not only a few skills, but the proper equipment, vision, and ability to continue on the legacy of Picture Change.
Kate - I'm so proud to say that I know you and love your heart and what you are doing. Your pictures bring me such joy and I love following you on instagram! Also, you make a killer banana bread.