I spent much of my last Friday evening reading the National Geographic’s 125 year special photo issue.
Photography has a special place in my heart for many reasons. My grandpa used to own a camera shop, and I grew up playing with manual SLR cameras with my mom. I am also a rather nostalgic person – just ask the random typewriter I bought because my dad used to own one and I grew to like the “ta-ta-ta” noise. Interestingly, I have often been in the position of archiving – even now, my job involves archiving some of my department’s documents and photos.
While my photography skill probably falls short, and I really don’t have the time or finance to support a photography hobby, photographs can connect me on a level that words or moving pictures sometimes can’t.
The photo issue has several great stories – from conservation, glacier, to mixed-race identities. The one that hit me the most was the story about Congo. The situation in Congo is not new. While the country is rich mostly because of metal mines – gold, tantalum, tin, tungsten, and more (check your cell phone – some of the metal components probably came from Congo), it has been in much tension and conflict. Many mines are owned by warlords; they enslave people to harvest the metals in poor conditions, and then use the money to finance weapons in order to maintain control over the slaves. Despite some major electronic companies putting pressures on the government to do something about it, and the recent defeat of M23 is definitely good news, but there is still a long way to go. I cannot include the National Geographic photos here, but I have embedded below the Flickr album from the Enough project.
The reality is that such situation did not arise in one day. Often times there are complicated historical and geographical reasons. Geographically, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the 11th largest country in the world. Culturally, it suffered from colonization, insurrections, invasion, and so on. It is when it comes to international issues such as these that I feel extremely helpless – Me, a professional women with a job and a voice, yet there is not much I can do about it. Once in a while, a celebrity will come on TV to raise some awareness, and this is in the limelight for a few days, and then people forget about it…over and over again.
Something else I realized was how National Geographic photographers consider themselves as having dual responsibilities. On one hand, they take photos for commercial reasons. On the other hand, many of them strive to bring awareness to the issues that they care about.
Photographers use their cameras as tools of exploration, passports to inner sanctums, instruments for change. – National Geographic
I fall in love with almost every person I photograph. I want to hear each story. I want to get close. This is personal for me. – Stephanie Sinclair
That’s the idea behind the Photo Ark: getting the public to look these creatures in the eye, then care enough to save them while there’s still time. My goal is to photograph as many of the world’s captive species as I can before time runs out. – Joel Sartore
My pictures are about making people realize we’ve got to protect those who can’t speak for themselves. –Michael “Nick” Nichols
This reminds me that scientists often have duel responsibilities too. On one hand, we are hired – either by academic institutions, by the government, or by the industry – to conduct experiments and run activities that technically should advance the agenda of the organization. On the other hand, many of us feel that we have a responsibility to the society, especially those of us who really love our jobs.
Just like photography is more than simply capturing the moment, sometimes science is really more than just experiments and lab reports. Our science is our cameras and the results are our photographs. There is so much at stake here – our health, our environment, our future.