Within the realm of international development and women’s empowerment, we come across a lot of passionate people who have dedicated their lives to advocating change. When we hear about the injustices and atrocities affecting women and girls around the world, I’m often surprised more people aren’t getting involved and trying to do what they can to make a difference, no matter how small.
An area we are lacking in the realm of women and development is engagement. How do we expect to increase our resources, funding, and capacity in the fight for equality if people don’t understand on one hand, the extent of the problems women face, and on the other, the extent of the capabilities women possess when provided proper rights and resources. Recently, at the Women Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpur, I came across an artist, a male artist, who through his photographs, has been able to express both.
Meet 20-something Mark Tuschman. A young American working to finish his PhD in neurophysiology at Berkley University. After receiving his first ever camera from a friend in Hong Kong, Mark began taking photos. At the age of 35 with the birth of his first son, Mark decided to make the choice between a PhD and promising career, and photography. He chose photography and in the interest of supporting his family, started doing corporate work. It wasn’t until he had the opportunity to travel to Asia in 2001, to do a photo-shoot for a grantee through the Global Fund for Women that Mark came face-to-face with the realities that so many women face. On one hand, Mark saw problems- women with no rights, no access to education or proper healthcare, who were facing abuse and poverty. On the other, Mark saw light- strong women fighting for what they believed and relentless NGO and healthcare workers trying to make the fight possible. For Mark this trip and this reality was the key motivator in what would become a decade-long endeavour to photograph women around the world, in the various circumstances they face, both good and bad.
When I sat down with Mark, I was interested in learning two main things. First, why women’s empowerment was his topic of choice, and second, why photography was his medium of choice in contributing to women’s empowerment.
He explains first that as a man fighting to empower women, he sees gender inequality not as a female or male issue, but a human issue. Mark emphasizes that as a human being, he sees the circumstances many women face as human rights offences that are simply unacceptable.
Next, he explains why photography is his medium of choice in this fight. Photography, Mark says, communicates very differently than books, articles, and newspapers. “When we read about broad terms or specific statistics, it’s just words and numbers. Humans are visual animals, and photographs speak to us in an emotional way. If people can’t see what’s happening, it’s hard to engage them to become aware it is happening and become motivated to do something.” He goes on to say,
“Photography breaks down barriers; it’s a universal language and a very simple but meaningful way to get a message across.”
Ultimately, Mark believes more NGOs doing outstanding work in the field need to use photography and art to inform people, especially youth. Eventually, Mark hopes to teach a course on photography specifically geared toward NGOs and corporate responsibility projects so that through art, they can better engage the average person. Mark ends his comment by saying,
“Art is a powerful medium for transforming the world.”
Through his book of photography, Mark’s goal is ultimately to spread awareness. With his art, he wants to bring women and their stories, some of which are uplifting, some of which are raw with emotion and harsh reality, to the forefront of world consciousness. Mark says, “the women I have photographed have constantly inspired me, and I’ve come to understand that their cause is our cause; their humanity is our humanity.”
For more on Mark’s book and photography, click HERE