UN Day 2020: A Canon and UN partnership
At the SDG Global Festival of Action Canon Ambassadors Laura El-Tantawy and Tasneem Alsultan both discussed their personal stories of growth as photographers and storytellers. They talked about their own roles in shaping the story and the sometimes unexpected effect this can have on someone looking at the photograph. As Laura discussed in a panel session with Tasneem, “I have always been inspired by how an image can relay emotion and this is something that plays a significant role in my career. A lot of times people tell me about feelings they had when they looked at a photo I took that I didn’t even anticipate or think I was capturing.”
This element of interpretation is photography’s unique strength to tell stories that enact change. “Sometimes one image can make you take action,” says Tasneem. The immense power an image can hold was a view also echoed by Laura: “There is something very powerful about communicating through photography; it’s beyond an art form, and beyond just a way of expressing and telling a story.”
Telling stories that are personal and authentic to the storyteller, happening on their doorstep rather than thousands of miles away, is the connection that resonates and ultimately motivates people to make a difference. “It’s about a sense of community,” Laura says. “And the camera is a way to navigate this community.”
In the Festival of Action’s Big Picture Plenary, Tasneem highlighted the need for representation and talked about how she’s come to realise that authentic, diverse voices help to make a difference: “We have so many commonalities across the world, yet we always think of ourselves. We need to step away from fear and focus on these commonalities; after all, we all grieve and celebrate in the same way.” Speaking about the impacts of the pandemic, she pointed out that the last year has been the “first time that people were forced to hire local storytellers and photographers to represent and talk about themselves”, bringing to light fresh local talent and perspectives.
“People respond to visuals”, Laura says, “which enable us to communicate in a digestible but also very powerful and influential way.” It is our human stories and images of real situations, which inspire people to get involved with advocacy campaigns and drive their own change.
That’s why we created the Canon YPP. Through our network of local NGOs, working with our Canon Ambassadors and our global partners such as the UN, we want to reach and inspire young people across the world. In a session inspired by our YPP workshop, Laura, Tasneem and I discussed how encouraging, educating and supporting young people across EMEA in telling the story of their community has inspired positive changes on issues such as wildlife conservation, gender equality and youth development.
Tasneem said: “I’ve realised that often in the countries I work in we don’t have the means to tell our stories. But by giving workshops I can show young people that the camera can be a tool that will give them much more than just imagination and playfulness. It can be a way to tell your story instead of having someone else say it for you.”
From their own neighbourhoods, we want to empower these young people to harness their creativity and as stated by Laura, “bring their own history into the photographs they take”. This unique view and power which each young person holds, plays an essential role in enabling them to become agents of change and active participants in making a difference to their futures. As Tasneem says: “We’re all in this together, and it’s time we start sharing our stories. The platform is yours.”