Industry Updates

Can Photography Effect Lasting Change? These Photo Projects Prove It Can

June 16, 2017

By Stacey Goldberg

© Renée C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee

Renée C. Byer’s story on Afghan refugees in California eventually led to a Congressional request to the federal General Accountability Office to investigate the resettlement process.

ART X RESIST, By their Fruits: Fundraising for Activism

Following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, photographers across the nation joined forces to donate to charities that support vital organizations or causes threatened by the Trump administration—Planned Parenthood, National Resource Defense Council, American Civil Liberties Union and others. To raise the money, photographers created online fundraisers, asking fellow artists to contribute pieces that, when sold, would directly benefit the advocacy groups. One of those fundraisers was By Their Fruits, a nonprofit coalition of female artists supporting women’s reproductive rights. Another, ART X RESIST, established by photographer Anna Beeke, collects photographs and printed graphics for sale through an online marketplace.

By Their Fruits, founded by artists Abigail Jacobs, Vanessa Holden and Erica Hill, partnered with online auction platform Paddle8, and raised over $60,000 for Planned Parenthood. The art auction brought together over 90 female photographers, artists, ceramicists, jewelers and sculptors who contributed pieces that, in many cases, “embodied the beauty of femininity, the female body and female empowerment,” which were then auctioned to the public.

Over the course of one month, Beeke coordinated with 67 other artists to raise over $11,000 for 16 organizations “just by selling $30 prints,” Beeke says. Her program, ART X RESIST, was promoted through “the snowball of social media,” and supported a number of charities and programs that participants are passionate about (including the ACLU, NRDC, Planned Parenthood, local shelters for the homeless and more). “With the uncertainty of the future in public arts funding, it’s more important than ever for us to use art as a tool for change,” she says.

Photographers interested in learning more about future art fundraisers can visit or email Anna Beeke at

No Safe Place: Inspiring Real Change

After The Sacramento Bee published an in-depth documentary project about the plight of Afghan refugees struggling to re-settle in the state capital, readers, advocacy groups and politicians ended up gathering to address the problem.

The project began in 2015 after a distracted driver plowed into Afghan refugee Mustafa Rafi and his 8-year-old son, Omar. Mustafa Rafi, who was living in the U.S. on a special immigration visa after working with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, died as a result. After his funeral, Sacramento Bee photographer Renée C. Byer wanted to learn more—specifically, how Mustafa’s widow, Malalai, planned to continue her adjustment to life in the U.S. and care for her three children, including Omar, who was severely injured in the crash.

Byer discovered that Malalai was one of many refugees struggling to resettle in the region. Many faced violence or were not given enough resources to safely adjust to life in a new country. “I knew in my heart there were more stories to be told and I asked that we hold the story and pursue this as an in-depth documentary photography project,” Byer says.

When the story ran, it chronicled more than seven individual refugees and their struggles. Byer’s images opened up a dialogue in the community and led to a partnership between The SacBee and The National Community and News Literacy Roundtables Project, which promotes understanding about community issues. According to Byer, nearly 500 people attended three forums “to discuss the issues raised by the project, and to enable community members to engage with them.” Additionally, California Congresswoman Doris Matsui, as a result of the project, asked for the federal General Accountability Office to investigate the entire Afghan resettlement process. Much work remains to be done, but Byer’s work is a reminder of the power of photojournalism to move audiences and initiate change.

As a volunteer, Jennifer Pottheiser has photographed more than 20 Cycle for Survival event, as part of an effort to raise awareness for the fundraiser. © Jennifer Pottheiser.

Cycle for Survival: Raising Awareness

Over the past decade, Cycle for Survival events have raised over $140 million for Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer research center. The daylong events are held in various Equinox gyms in cities around the U.S. and include teams of survivors, patients, doctors, caregivers and supporters cycling on stationary bikes in an energetic, colorful and inspirational environment. Each team is responsible for fundraising, and in 2017, over 31,000 riders were involved in the events.

Part of Cycle for Survival’s fundraising success depends on publicity, and last year, 60 professional photographers documented the rides in 16 cities around the country. “It’s so important to capture the energy, heart and determination at the events through photography,” notes Jennifer Pottheiser, who has volunteered her photography services for more than 20 Cycle for Survival events over the past nine years. The images are shared on social media, in marketing campaigns, used for publicity and given to participants. “The images are essential in visually showing Cycle for Survival’s impact for everyone touched by cancer,” she notes. Photographers interested in getting involved with shooting for Cycle for Survival can contact Jennifer Pottheiser at

This article is part of a larger series of trends and challenges in the photo industry. To read more articles in the series, check out The Ups/Downs of the Year Past and Year Ahead.