Half-and-Half project creates social justice through photography
With a bold new project called Half-and-Half, Vancouver-based photographer Joshua Hergesheimer plans to give back 50 per cent of the profits made from photographs to the subject that made the photo possible.
"If I'm making money from these photos, I want for (the subjects) to benefit as well --- that makes me sleep better at night," said Hergesheimer.
Hergesheimer explains the project, which is simple in concept but dauntingly complex in execution. If a photograph depicts a person, or a community, Hergesheimer gives half the profit to a development agency working on behalf of people in the region. In the case of photographs depicting the natural world or the built environment, half the proceeds will go toward a local heritage and land conservancy trust.
Social justice through the lens
For him, Half-and-Half is a way to re-connect the photographer to the subject beyond his lens. While traveling to West Africa at age 20, Hergesheimer was struck by the economic inequality between Africa and North America, and became involved in activism for social change.
"I became very aware of how wealth flows to the West," he said, saying that he felt "uneasy" with the idea of the subject of a great photograph receiving no recognition or sense of connection to the people viewing the image on the other side of the world.
A different perspective on photography
Hergesheimer said that while some photographers feel the same need to create social change, most people in his industry feel a strong sense of ownership over their images.
“Photographers generally feel like they caught the image or they caught the decisive moment of the photograph – they feel like they're the authors of that moment,” Hergesheimer said. “Nobody seems to be talking much about what the subject is offering to you, the photographer.”
He said that with the Half-and-Half project, photographers will be able to acknowledge the subject's role in helping to create a good image.
Empowering through images
While taking photos often indirectly helps the subject by spreading awareness, Hergesheimer believes the act of photography can take place with more respect and consideration for the subject.
“Especially in Ethiopia, you may have the image of the classic starving baby – and organizations will use it for their own ends,” he said.
In Hergesheimer's stunning images of Dirashe, Ethiopia, people are depicted carrying out their daily lives, almost unconscious of the camera's presence.
Hergesheimer gives half the profits from his photos to HOPE International Development Agency (HIDA), which has been based in Ethiopia for over 13 years.
In the case of Cuba, he said, giving back was difficult because everything from people to architecture was heavily entrenched in politics. Eventually, however, he chose a heritage conservation agency to protect the historical buildings that he photographed during his journey.
Today, as a happily married father of two young children, Hergesheimer feels the necessity of making money through his photographs -- but hasn't let go of his ideal for social justice.
“Logistics is the hardest part – can I even make any money from this?” he wonders.
Still, Hergesheimer is confident that the Half-and-Half project will gain some support from people who wish to make a difference in the world that goes beyond a cut-and-dry financial transaction.
“Consumers are hungry for connections to people,” he said, comparing the experience of human interaction to that of a farmer's market. “It's not just about I'm making money, we're all part of a group and making connections.”