19 Mar 2013

PNB recently got the chance to talk with Ryan Ansin, the managing director and founder of Every Person Has a Story based out of the Boston area. Ansin told PNB about his background and about the non-profit organization, EPHAS, and the work they do using photography to share stories and connect people around the world. 

1. Tell us about EHPAS

Every Person Has a Story (EPHAS) is a 2½ year-old organization that brings exposure to unexposed areas of the world. We have operated in 32 locations in 12 countries. Through imagery, EPHAS is able to show the good around the world, specifically in locations that are perceived as dirty or unchangeable. We try to curate and collect the most authentic stories that we can find.  

On Christmas Eve 2012, we were very lucky to have partnered with IMEC (International Medical Equipment Collaborative- however it has now branched out, working toward transforming communities through the millennium goals of health, hunger, and education improvements and support), an organization that will bring us to an additional 1,000 locations. IMEC provides equipment solutions to hospitals, farms and schools around the world. In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the country’s largest hospital is being built and IMEC will provide all of the equipment. Going forward, EPHAS will be a part of any IMEC location.

2. Tell us about your background

At a young age I was very lucky to get involved in making different philanthropic videos. I made a film for my local Boys and Girls Club and because of that work I was invited to go to East Asia.  I spent the next 8 years making films on important humanitarian subjects. After a while, felt like film wasn’t the right medium to capture the reality that I intended.  

I was working with SSF (Sao Sary Foundation), which protects kids from sex trafficking in Kampong Cham, Cambodia. The subject deserved a movie, but I didn’t feel comfortable trying to extract a story from someone so young about such a sensitive and traumatic experience.  So instead of conducting the interviews myself, I decided to have the subjects interview each other. During that process, the children fell in love with the lens.

The switch from film to photography was out of function. Photography can be as simple as you want it to be. Video is very difficult to teach on a large scale, especially at a small budget. Everyone has different capabilities.

When creating EPHAS, it was important to me to put the participants behind the camera rather than solely in front of the camera. This way everyone can be involved. EPHAS also provides skills and experience that participants and teachers can be proud of for the rest of their lives. This program of capturing and sharing realities is simple and the execution is straightforward. It just works.

3. How do you decide where to go/ what subject to choose?

I always connect with a local organization on the ground; we need a local cause to champion us and a structure to help manage the program. During the first year, EPHAS worked with organizations I trusted and had partnered with in the past.  For the past year, we had a system to choose locations, in which our board members would help to judge the safety of participants, the promise of sustainability, the timeliness of a project, the cost, in addition to making  sure that donor was ready to champion the project.  Now that we have a relationship with IMEC, things will change. We will be choosing the locations after input from a joined EPHAS and IMEC advisory board.

4. How do you teach the technical side of photography?

We teach the preliminary lessons with local instructors. We start with the basic elements of photography- how to show motion, look for shadows and pattern, etc. Slowly, the participants are given the reigns and they become more and more creative.

In the program there are two main exercises we have students complete. The first is locating someone in the community who wants to learn photography. The student has to teach this person how to use a camera and some of the creative techniques they have learned. This helps to solidify the skills they have mastered. The second is what we call the 15-Word Exercise.  Participants are given 15 words which represent more conceptual pieces of everyday life and take photos to represent these words. Some of the words are family, innocence, fear, nourishment, Love, beauty, etc. It helps students to create authentic photography which move beyond basic portraits and landscapes. This lesson allows the photographer to show dynamic aspects of their lives without the instructors giving direction on what exactly participants have to capture.

5. Where are the images shown? Where do you hope the images are shown?

In the past 2 1/2 years we’ve been growing our network of blogs and social media outlets. We are getting involved with larger museums and news organizations. It’s exciting, but it’s also very costly. Some things we had to turn down because we don’t have the necessary capital. That’s another reason we have decided to work IMEC—to provide EPHAS with further funding and larger audience.

6. What do you think makes these images so powerful?

Who took the photographs. I think it’s obvious that a professional photographer traveling to South Sudan would have more intricate skills compared to our participants. But those photographs are just a fraction of the authenticity, it definitely the local participation and perspective that makes these images more unique and powerful.

7. Are any of the images students have taken been too graphic/too sensitive in nature to show?

There are images that people would expect to be too graphic but we show everything. We are committed to showing both sides of the coin.   

There’s an image from South Sudan of a gun being held to the head of a 6 year-old. I brought it to the attention of the managers of the program. I asked if it is a toy gun.  And they let me know, “no, there are no toy guns here.”  They assured me it was it wasn’t loaded. It was disconcerting, but ultimately it was something the photographer found compelling, so we decided show the image. People here in the US were mortified by the photo but that’s what we’re presenting. We’re showing what is going on in these communities.

8. Do you have any students that become passionate about being professional photographers?

Sure, everyone wants to be a professional photographer and some really have the legs to do it. We try and provide outlets for that to happen. In the past a couple of years our students have become instructors. We’re now looking at a slightly different model where we’re sending professional photographers into these communities to teach the top 10% of students how to operate a DSLR and other equipment so they come away with deeper understanding of the art of photography. But the promise of jobs or income is a great bi-product, but that’s really a secondary mission. We’re focused on the masses having the capability to take photographs, the experience that comes from image making and having participants communicate how they view the world through imagery.

Learn more about EPHAS and the work they do here

Post your comment


No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments