They Use Photography To Give Oppressed Women a Voice
“Photography gives voices to women who are traditionally silenced, who are denied a chance to express emotions,” says 24-year-old Bonnie Chiu, co-founder of Lensational, a social enterprise based in Hong Kong. Lensational teaches women basic photography skills, arms them with a camera, and then sells their shots to give these women an income stream. More importantly, the women, many of whom are illiterate, feel they are being heard and seen, in a society that undervalues them.
The idea was sparked by an encounter that Bonnie while travelling in Turkey. Her camera piqued the interest of four young girls, who asked if they could try it. During her impromptu ‘photography 101’ session, she realised that photography was an art form that could connect people despite cultural or language barriers. As a bonus, photography becomes a form of "art therapy".
Bonnie recounts the story behind the shot above: “Unlike the boys, the girls were reluctant to jump on the motorbike for a picture. After all, we were in a country where women are rarely seen driving vehicles. Finally, one girl gamely hopped on and we captured this. You can even see the disapproval from the boys surrounding her in the photo, but the look of triumph on her face is undeniable.”
What’s interesting about Lensational’s workshops is that the focus is actually on the storytelling side of things (rather than technical aspects like aperture and shutter speed).
This is because the act of taking a picture can be therapeutic, allowing women to express feelings and memories they may find difficult to convey through words alone – especially with many of the women being illiterate.
As Lensational says on its website: "We believe that photography is an enabler of agency. We want to move beyond the monolithic image of victimhood of women because they not only have overlapping identities — mothers, daughters, friends —, but are also individuals with dreams and aspirations. Each photo is a snapshot of their journey of empowerment through photography."
The women's photos are curated by a team at Lensational, who then puts it up on their website, and sells it to an international market.
At the moment, the company prints the photos onto canvas and sells them from USD$100 – 50% of which goes directly back to the photographer. The social enterprise is looking to expand on their range of products. The next time you're looking for artwork to put up in your home, head to he Lensational gallery – they've got photos of various styles, from stunning landscapes, to telling portraits and even hipster-type abstract shots.
The social enterprise now has over 50 volunteers working across 13 countries, collaborating with other NGOs and social enterprises to reach out to women in need, including foreign domestic helpers from Indonesia and the Philippines, garment factory workers in Bangladesh, at-risk girls and survivors of trafficking in Thailand, and more.
Your money will go a long way towards not just empowering the woman whose photo you appreciate, but for all oppressed women out there to feel that their story, their point of view, matters.
Interested in socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.
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