If this sounds smug now, I can't help it. Jen and Stephanie would be among the first people I know to tell me that sometimes intuition works. Sometimes you just - feeling your way, following your heart - know, even when you don't for sure and have no idea how what you know will come to pass. And I feel a little better resting in intuition on behalf of two women who I - admittedly - have hugged warmly and eaten dinner with, women whose eyes I've looked into and seen the belief in everything amazing, with the work to back it up.
But it's not just pretty pictures. Beyond those, and more relative to this contest, I know both of them to have a deep belief in the power of each person's story, and the necessity of images to share what needs to be shared of those stories with the world. Their words and images are beautiful, for sure. They speak of hope and dreams, things sometimes hard to see in a complicated world. But their work is underscored by the most solid things - it is the opposite of ethereal, really. They each, in her own way, exist to help the more cynical who walk among us (i.e., me) simultaneously feel the struggle along with a capacity for joy, however tiny.
Microsoft got it too. They chose Stephanie and Jen's Picture Hope project from among ten finalists for a $50,000 prize, that they will use to travel to five continents to capture pictures of hope. Here's what they said in their application:
The inspiration for our travel destinations will be women who are
dear friends to us here in the United States--former modern day slaves,
genocide survivors, young activists, old visionaries and new
immigrants. We'll begin in northeastern Rwanda in a quiet village where
two young girls wait to be reunited with a mother they've been missing
for over three years. Our journey ends in the hills of Nepal where an
American teenager became the mother of twenty orphans when she decided
to follow her heart.
At each new destination, we will introduce you to a person who has
become for us a living icon of hope. We'll then invite you to respond
with geo-tagged finds from your own lens as together we excavate hope
wherever we live, wherever we go. This body of images and video will
become a visual catalog for our hopeful world. This online gallery will
be our collective resource for the creation of literacy tools and print
resources to make a real world difference in the lives of the hopeful
people we've met on our dream assignment.
Those of us who love photography seem to share a sense of its worth beyond the frame and the paper or the screen it's printed on. If you've been following Jen's story at all the past couple of years, you know that her images of the people she's met and come to care so deeply for in Rwanda and here at home are infused with that sense. Just start at the top of her site, right here, and scroll down. You'll see it.
These women won for me and for lots of other people a long time ago. The quality of their work and their commitment to what they're trying to accomplish is remarkable. This win is their next step. It's an opportunity to take an absolute commitment to the betterment of the world and other people to a very cool level with the use of artistic ability and will. It's one of the best things I've heard about in a while, and it (really) couldn't have happened to two better people.
When I met Stephanie a few years ago, she was working on audio
projects. Last year, she left her job and began her own photography and
digital documentary company, Little Purple Cow Photography. She produced this photo essay about Picturing Hope called "Crossing the Threshold" that uses Jen's photos and words, including these.
For the last 20 years I've been learning what it means to be a friend and also what it means to have a friend. Photography for me is a way of crossing that threshold and revealing the things that sometimes our culture or our language make it impossible for us to see at first glance...
Jen goes on to say that she hopes her photographs in some way offer a window into the deeper stories. They already have, if the outpouring of support from the Shutter Sisters and wider Web community is any indication. And I really can't wait to see how deep they can go, with some extra cash and a bunch of passport stamps. Really deep, it's safe to say.
I am looking forward to seeing the Shutter Sisters’ project come to
life and following their journey meeting and sharing the experiences of
their inspirational subjects.
In the meantime, check out the Shutter Sisters’ ‘One Word Project’ for the month - April is Hope - for the images that are already inspiring hope on their site.
Jen Lee recently finished her own Portfolio Project and is a strong supporter of Picturing Hope. So are Margie and Kath of Soeurs du Jour.
Sometimes it seems the only news is the bad news, the sad news and the scary news. To hear this happy news of a prize well deserved and hard earned should give us all a little more hope in our hearts and minds. What an amazing bunch we all are.
Stephanie's most recent Shutter Sisters post about her son's reaction to the win. Because you have to trust and let go. And the original Sisters' post about the win, from Jen, Stephanie and founder Tracey Clark. Because hope is more than wishful thinking.
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