Karin Doolin spoke at the inaugural Reset Conference about using our talents for good. She shared ways that she and husband Roger have found to make a difference in the world through photography. The founded the Big Picture Project a few years ago and today Karin is telling us the story of how the organization was formed and the why behind it.
My husband Roger and I run a photography business in the St.Louis, Missouri metro area which specializes in wedding and senior photography. In the summer of 2013 we went on a humanitarian photography trip to Nicaragua. We had been yearning for a way to give back through a medium that had provided so much for us, and when the opportunity arose we knew we were meant to be a part of this trip.
The things we witnessed were true human suffering, yet through it all there was so much hope within the people. We saw people facing true adversity, but it didn’t diminish their smile or their strong sense of selflessness. Beyond our professional gear, we brought with us a simple Polaroid camera to the villages we photographed in.
That camera set into motion something that would change our lives forever. Most of the individuals living in the village have never owned an image of themselves. It’s hard to imagine it. Not one single image, meanwhile I have photos of my dinner on my cell phone. When we would print out a photo for people they would squeal and chatter with excitement. The way they would gaze at their treasure – a single cherished polaroid – still leaves me speechless. After they received a photo of themselves they would instantly want to show us more things they wanted photos of. Their children, their neighbor, their friend, even a pig!! Their story on film. Their proof of life.
During the plane ride home, this process weighed on us. They have a story worthy of sharing and one that would give perspective to others on not only the obstacles the marginalized face, but how the obstacles don’t define their happiness. We wanted a way to teach these people with no electricity, with no running water, no images of their own – how to use a camera.
How to document their lives. And then wanted to bring that perspective back to the US, and share their art and their story with others, and after selling their artwork – give the proceeds back to their community to provide lifeline needs. We wanted to shift the perspective of third world poverty, and to give these people a voice. The dream was ambitious, but the good ones always are. Two months later we created a non-profit organization called the Big Picture Project.
Since then, we have completed four projects in Nicaragua, Kenya, and Myanmar and raised over $75,000 which has built homes, a feeding station, and a school. But our projects haven’t only provided financial support. By connecting individuals who have been forgotten with the opportunity to share their story, we have amplified their voice and given them the tools to share their perspective with the world. When these vulnerable individuals realize they can be the change makers in their community, it redefines the perception of Western aid and how they experience it.
As The Big Picture Project works towards new goals, we aspire to expand our reach to a broader range of individuals facing adversity. By empowering more visual artists to use their influence and expertise to serve the underprivileged, we can build partnerships with more communities in need.
We hope that what people we see through The Big Picture Project is how we are not defined by our circumstances and how much power our perspective has when we chose positivity.