Lesson for the Scene: Photographing your Passion

 by Stanley Leary

Figure 1
Your dream assignment often will be a self generated one.  That’s my conclusion after pitching ideas to National Geographic Magazine and other publications for the past 25 years. 
The first step to the dream assignment is defining your passion.  What gets you excited and willing to champion a cause?
Early in my career I got that dream job as a photographer for The Commission Magazine.  This magazine covered Christian missionaries all over the world.  The magazine was competing with National Geographic Magazine for the best use of pictures in the Picture of the Year contest put on by the National Press Photographers and Missouri School of Journalism.
Figure 2This was my second job after a newspaper job.  Since I was the new guy, my job wasn’t as glamorous as the other photographers who on a regular basis traveled the world.  I was making portraits and passports for all the missionaries and their families as well as teaching them how to tell their story using slides.
Occasionally I got to do a story, but it was always in the states showing how local churches were supporting their missionaries.
I did get to hangout with Don Rutledge, Joanna Pinneo and Warren Johnson when they were not globe trotting the world.  While I would say my favorite thing is shooting a story I am passionate about; my second favorite thing is listening to other photographers talk about their passionate stories.  I regularly invite photographers to my home hoping they would share their stories and photos from around the globe.
Just this past month we had 20 photographers at our house sharing stories about Pakistan, Alaska, Japan, Haiti, Mexico and other spots.  This is equivalent to having the photographers of National Geographic Magazine sit beside you as you turn the pages and give you the behind the scene look of the story.  It’s even better because they show you more photos than they were able to publish.
My passion is showing the love of God for his people.  Sometimes I show the joys, and sometimes I show the pain.
Figure 3Just this past October I was privileged to tell a story with a twist on what I thought was a traditional missions story.  I traveled to Mexico to get a close-up view of why Mexicans have risked their lives to travel north to find jobs.  Why would people spend $2,000 to $3,000 to pay a coyote to help them navigate the desert for 3 – 5 days and nights?  Since 1994, 5,000 Mexicans have perished in their attempts to cross the border.
I discovered one solution to the illegal immigration for coffee farmers.  About ten years ago while sipping a $5 cup of coffee, Mark Adams was talking to a former coffee grower who told him how coffee growers’ income dropped over 70 percent in just a short period of time in the late 90’s.  This was just about the time that illegal immigration was getting worse. 
Mark was working for Frontera de Cristo.  It is one of the six Presbyterian Border Ministries of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.  The group was doing micro loans to help families start small businesses to support their families.  The coffee issue was bigger than they had addressed.
They then formed a Just Trade Center to help address the issue of the coffee growers.  They, along with the help of others like Catholic Charities, gave a loan to the coffee growers for $20,000 that was enough to buy a roaster.  It was such a huge success that they hope to find other industries where they can help a community like they have done with Café Justo.
Take a look at a package I created to help introduce people to their concept.  I believe once you learn about their story you will start to explore other ways you can become an informed consumer helping to address the issues facing immigration.
As you can tell I got a little side tracked and this is what happens when you find a passion.  Even if you have to donate your time to do a story you feel passionate about do it.  Then you have something to share with folks about what you want to do for them. 
As you can tell from my project, I had to get some friends involved to help get the best folks for the story.  We had many eyes and ears to refine the project.  So when you get ready to tell others about your passion and need help—give me a call.
Check out my project here.