Among some of the most powerful ideas that are shaping the zeitgeist of today, social responsibility, conscious capitalism, social entrepreneurship and global citizenship are at the top. In this decade, I’ve observed a significant shift away from the traditional philanthropy model of invisible charity and toward a more conscious engagement between donors and recipients of aid. Philanthropy is slowly moving from being a statistics-motivated “handouts” model toward a deeper connection with individuals at the bottom of the pyramid as it’s so called. This consciousness toward a more engaged and direct dialogue between who receives the aid and who provides it makes photography an important link in the new value chain of philanthropy. Photographs communicate human stories from the ground from far-off places and connect them to an empathetic and affluent audience who can contribute to solutions for specific issues.
Elizabeth Jordan, a friend and photographer based in London, combines her artistic skills with her philanthropic goals in a unique model of fundraising for issues she cares deeply about. Jordan started her family foundation and decided that in order to understand the issues she was supporting, she would travel to the affected areas herself and connect with her subjects through photography. Her first major project was a series of photographs for Women for Women International, an organization that supports survivors in war-torn countries and helps them to rebuild their lives.
Jordan realized that photographs showing the harsh reality of subjects on the ground were successful at eliciting sympathy, but not at motivating audiences to donate or buy a piece as a contribution to a cause. So Jordan started treating her photographs as instruments of aid and transforming her pictures into poignant art pieces that would appeal to traditional art buyers. Since then, Jordan has organized several gallery exhibits and donated 100% of the proceeds from the sales of her pictures to charities she supports. Jordan’s belief is that all aid has to be sustainable and that it has to emerge from a direct connection to its recipient, so her unique philanthropy model connects a donor permanently to a subject through an art piece that he or she owns and reflects upon for a lifetime.
I was proud to help Jordan with her recent exhibit “Strength and Balance” in New York in early March. Jordan raises awareness of women’s issues in areas of economic or geopolitical dislocations, and this exhibit features images of women in Ghana. Each photograph in the exhibit was digitally manipulated by Jordan with Photoshop techniques like solarization and painting to elicit what she calls a “pop”-art effect. Inspired both by Man Ray and Andy Warhol, Jordan likes to “abstract-out” the imagery that some consider disturbing or too “in your face,” and she renders it as a work of art. As Jordan puts it, “I try and take a difficult subject and convert it into more of a pop-art style, combining my passion for painting and photography. I am excited by the challenge of photographing that which is not traditionally beautiful and presenting it from another angle, making it interesting and uplifting enough for people to want to hang it in their living rooms.”
A great example in this exhibit of her unique visual style is the piece called “Love2,” a 4×6-foot picture that she constructed from repeating graffiti text of the word “love.” Jordan told me that she was in a fishing village in Ghana, searching for an image that would symbolize this community and also appeal to an art collector. She came upon a wooden crate with graffiti of “love” scribbled on it. She photographed it and created a larger collage, applying multiple effects. The result is a Warholesque piece with a powerful reminder of the beauty that underlies the lives of people at the “bottom of the pyramid.”
For an artist, Jordan possesses sharp entrepreneurial instincts that go a long way in ensuring the success of her exhibits. She treats her exhibits as performance events and complements the openings with multisensory entertainment to create compelling experiences for her potential donors. From fashion shows to live performances, Jordan is the bold artist who doesn’t balk at charging her guests an entrance fee to her openings. Her Ghana exhibit had Wyclef Jean and his sister perform at the show. Building these engaging experiences allows Jordan to create a large community around her causes, which has made her both a successful donor and artist.
Of course, the part that’s always the most exciting for me is to see an artist’s vision transform from a digital file into a larger-than-life print. After looking at Jordan’s pictures, we suggested digital metallic prints for her work to enhance her pop-art style. These prints were mounted behind polished Plexiglas™, and metal mounting structures were created for every piece. The photographs were as large as eight feet high, with some of them mounted with aluminum structures extending from floor to ceiling with images on both sides. Jordan and I were so thrilled with the results that we’re already talking about her next show, which we’ll produce on solar lightboxes.
Baldev Duggal, president and founder of Duggal, has been innovating visual solutions for image-makers for more than 40 years. Credited with building and designing the industry’s first dip-and-dunk processing machine, Duggal has maintained his status as a leader in the imaging business and is heralded for outstanding service by consumer and trade magazines alike. With digital capabilities reaching worldwide, his headquarters covers a block on West 23rd Street in New York City.