High on humanness—connecting through visual storytelling

July 16, 2013

What does it mean to be human and alive? What a fantastic, important question to ponder, explore and reveal through visual storytelling. I argue that there’s no better way to connect people—and to move them to action—than through the power of photography, a force that has extraordinary potential and has been largely underleveraged in the change sector.

When we connect visually with a familiar story, our values are instinctively tapped. We become emotional—high on the humanness!—and are compelled to act. Illustrate what in the world matters to real people, we never outgrow values and most of us can barely control our emotions.

While advertisers have been using such tactics to tug at our emotions with savvy visual communications for a long time, this incredible tool for moving people to action has been wildly underutilized in the advocacy sector. Perhaps most notably we have failed to put human faces and personalities on the science and statistics behind climate and environmental movements, imperative to inspiring people to connect, to care, and to take action.

Through my work in the Amazon rainforest and elsewhere around the globe I’ve made more than my share of “environmental war images.” But time and again it’s the raw and real close-up on the people who live in these places—those who suffer and celebrate both the human consequences of destruction and the magical, irreplaceable landscapes they live in—that resonate with and inspire audiences to take action.

Tip from photographer Caroline Bennett:  Go ahead, show the threat. But don’t leave out the people affected, especially if they are kids – we are programmed to connect with kids…we all have one or at least have been one. Think about solutions and positive images, show audience that this is a place worth protecting, that your issue is not hopeless and that there’s an opportunity for them to be a hero.

Look. There’s no guarantee that people will act if they know about something and feel for it, but they certainly won’t if they don’t. Photography’s great strength lies in its potential as a medium to question, arouse curiosity, surprise and delight, to hear different voices or see through different eyes. Unexpected emotion grabs us—shake your audience awake through visual storytelling!

Everywhere people want the same opportunities—to survive, peace, family, community—we’re all on this quest, searching for what it means to be human on this planet we share. And we all intrinsically want it to work. As the world becomes interconnected we seem to get lost in the way we transmit our stories and lack real platforms for understanding and relating. This is critical for our coexistence and success on the planet, and also for cherishing, making valuable and protecting the differences that make us unique and diverse. Visual storytelling has the power to relay this in a language we all understand and can care about. I think the role of photography has perhaps never been more critical.

Caroline Bennett is an award-winning photographer and communications strategist working to pioneer a realm of visual journalism that leverages new platforms and cutting edge digital tactics to shake the world awake through high-impact storytelling founded in the truth and dignity of the people represented.