Being a better witness

I’ve realized that the way I approached photographing the journey last year was all wrong.

Before the trip, all I had seen of Africa was National Geographic photos and the cliche “give us money”, pull-at-your-heartstrings close-ups of starving children. Naturally, I thought that was the kind of shot I needed to be successful or to make an impact.

I ended up getting some really powerful shots, but none of them were really original.

Those kinds of photos might be what people expect or want, but that’s only because that’s all they know of Africa. Now that I’ve been here and I know the complicated Uganda that actually exists, one picture of a starving child or a grass hut is a sad and simple misrepresentation of the multidimensional country I’ve grown to love.

This time around I want to try to somehow capture the Uganda that nobody knows about unless they’ve spent time here: A country that has an obsession with futbol that manifests itself in the street in the form of vuvuzelas, face paint and Ugandan flags in every form on match day and shows futbol matches on every public TV 24 hours a day; a country that is protesting the destruction of its rain forests by refusing to buy sugar from the cane fields that are ever-encroaching on the trees.

I won’t be able to explain a lot of the things I see in this place–I know that from experience. Everybody I try to explain these things to will likely have already seen the same National Geographic and Save the Children footage I had before visiting. The inexplicable memories are the ones that need capturing so they can tell their own stories.

One of my goals on this trip is to enable myself to be a better witness to the third world by capturing it in a way that makes it easier to explain.

10 thoughts on “Being a better witness

  1. Sara –

    Loved this reflection. I’m really looking forward to seeing the pictures you take. Thinking of you and the group!!

  2. Sara, last year, you captured so many great and powerful images -I stole a lot of them and saved them to my own iPhoto 🙂 -, but I think you are on to something with this post. I am def looking forward to what you and your camera come up with this time around!

  3. Whoops I messed up my first post!
    Sara, first I want to say how proud I am of you. I know that you will enable yourself to be a great witness because you are determined and a fast learning. I admire you so much for what you are doing and I know you will accomplish everything that you have set in front of you. I am lucky to have as a friend and sister. I will keep you in my prayers.

    Your Brother,


  4. I appreciate your post so much … it is so easy to stereotype and simplify complex subjects isn’t it or to use someone else’s images, marketing images, to shape how we see the world. Your vision is so good. Well done.

  5. This is a great way to think about how you want to go deeper on your second trip into a context that you struggle to understand. I look forward to following your journey to deeper insights into the terribly challenging place that is your destination.

  6. There is a positive/beautiful side to everything and every situation, but the effort must be made to find it. If anyone can do it I believe it would be you! Love reading your writing and looking at your photography you have so much talent! So proud to have such a wonderful person to call my best friend!
    Love and miss you!!

  7. I can’t wait to see your pictures!! I was so happy to have you and the other photographers on the last trip, cuz Lord knows I can’t take a good pic haha my thoughts are with all of you!!

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