Expanding opportunities for women through stock photography

By Patricia Lois Nuss

Lensational’s burgeoning partnership with Getty Images has brought with it the opportunity to expand opportunities for the women in our programs and continued support for cameras and workshop facilities.

The Getty iStockalypse event in Bangkok, Thailand — held in February 2017 — was the perfect event to both expose two of Lensational’s photographers to the world of stock photography and strengthen our ties with Getty.

Based in the mountains of Mae Wang, Thailand, our partner Daughters Rising provides refuge, vocational training, language and health lessons, support for school programs, and a positive community for women considered “at risk” to the plight of sex-trafficking. The women in this program come from many worlds, some are from local Karen villages, some are stateless refugees from Burma, and others are actually graduates of the program who continue to work there in order mentor new women and maintain the work environment at the Chai Lai eco-resort.

A one-hour drive and a one hour flight could bring a few of our participants from Daughters Rising to the big city of Bangkok for this important event. We have so many talented photographers in this program, but we could only take two.

Nut and Soe at iStockalypse

Two sisters in the program, Soe, and Nut, excitedly volunteered to join this trip. Both women are from a small village high up on Doi Inthanon Mountain. Their village achieved Thai citizenship during the Royal Project and survives predominantly on farming and rural work, also through the Royal Project. They lovingly refer to their home as “the jungle” and in addition to farming; the women work at Daughters Rising and lead treks for tourists through the first Karen-woman owned eco-tourism company, Chai Lai Sisters.

Soe is 24, and she is an artist in her own right, having studied painting and drawing at the University. She is extremely talented and dedicated to perfecting her crafts. You will often find Soe using the Daughters Rising laptop to watch drawing tutorials alongside a pad of paper and pencil. Soe has a natural understanding of light, form, and composition. She focuses portraiture and narrative in her photography and has recently begun taking short videos. While Soe is newer to the Lensational program, she comes in with proficiency for the arts.

Soe recently told me “I want to take photographs of my culture” and she recognizes the importance of documenting and sharing Karen culture and stories of the elders in her village.

Soe’s sister Nut is 18; she is a beginning photographer who shows an interest in makeup artistry. Nut and Soe have been fervently saving their money in order to send Nut to college for nursing. Nut has witnessed the negative impact a lack of proper healthcare has for people in her her village (and in other Karen villages) and has made a goal to help change that by becoming a nurse. Karen people often face discrimination in local hospitals, and travel to health facilities can take at least an hour. Nut understands the power one person can have and hopes to one day create proper health facilities that are more accessible to the elders and others in her village.

Soe and Nut waiting to board the plane

Neither have ever been on a plane before and they were excited for the adventure that awaited us in Bangkok. When they were children, they joined their village on a trip by bus to Bangkok for a Thai cultural event. Of that trip, Soe said “the city has no trees, no green, only cement, and rock”, while excited for the art exhibit I promised to take them to, Soe made her preference for nature over cement very clear.

The day of our flight we arrived at the airport early, a bit too early. So, we set up with some coffee in the CNX terminal and used the opportunity to learn a little bit about photo editing. I went over the introductory Lensational lessons with Nut (Soe was already familiar) and then we used my laptop to practice editing photos in Lightroom. Both were very excited by the magic of photo editing tools.

Photo-editing crash course at the airport

Off we went through security and to the plane. I challenged them to navigate the terminal and gates on their own, and soon we were boarding our plane for a lovely weekend of learning. On the plane, the women commented about the changing air pressure, which hurt their ears, and asked many questions about travel with an interest towards seeing more of the world. After our trip together, Soe would begin saving money in order to take a plane trip to see the ocean in south Thailand for her first time!

Soon we arrived in Bangkok and took a long taxi ride through the constant traffic of the city towards our hostel. We checked in, got settled, and then headed out to find some street food for dinner. To our surprise, the street food in Bangkok was MUCH more expensive than the street food that can be found in Chiang Mai or Mae Wang. We laughed about this and had a good dinner of grilled skewers and papaya salad.

Taking the train to the event

The next morning we got ready and headed for the train to make our way to the iStock Getty event. In the train station, the women navigated payment, map, and schedules in order to get us to our location on time. Neither had ever been on a train before and at one point, while swaying from the movement of the train, Nut looked to me and said: “We need sticky shoes”.

When we arrive at Getty iStockalypse, we were greeted by a slew of professional photographers who were interested in learning about both the Lensational and Daughters Rising programs.

We checked in and had the opportunity to meet with Rebecca, the Director of Creative Insight at Getty. Rebecca took the time to look over print portfolios of our Lensational Thailand participants and get to know more about each of the women. Rebecca was impressed with their work and Soe took this opportunity to give her a print.

Soe, Patricia and Rebecca

We then sat to learn all about stock photography. What is it? Why is it important? Where do you see it? How can I make money with Stock? We learned so much and later on the train we made a game of guessing which advertisements in the tunnel used stock photographs.

During lunch, we made our way to the Bangkok Arts and Culture Center. We had the opportunity to see so much wonderful work here. The Royal Photographic Society of Thailand had a local exhibition of works for viewing, and three other galleries on site allowed us to view complex paintings and sculptures by Thai artists.

Viewing exhibits at the Bangkok Arts and Culture Center

The highlight of our museum trip was the Sebastiao Salgado exhibition on the top floor. Salgado is a Brazilian social documentary photographer and photojournalist. He has traveled in over 120 countries for his photographic projects, which have been featured in numerous publications. Of utmost interest was his work “Migration: The Story of Humanity on the Move”, which focuses on the epic displacement of people all over the world.

Soe said of this exhibit: “I love these photographs because they have emotion and meaning.”

During lunch we had a pleasant surprise: a man recognized Soe and Nut’s traditional Karen shirts and approached us. He was actually Karen himself, but he has lived in Bangkok for a long time, and, it turns out, he is also the head of Bangkok Society for Photography and they were having a meeting at the very restaurant we ended up at for lunch! He was kind enough to do a portfolio review/critique right then and there at our table. His enthusiasm for their work was clear, and he asked if he could keep a photograph that Soe took of elephants in her village. Soe obliged and discussed many of her works with him in terms of light, subject, and framing.

Stock photography tutorial at iStock

Following lunch, we returned to iStock where we had the opportunity to view a stock photography tutorial complete with models and lighting setups. However, the concept of this shoot was that of an office setting, which was confusing to both Soe and Nut.

At one point they looked to me and said “we don’t have clothes like this in the jungle”, we laughed and all agreed, perhaps this is not the right subject for a jungle or village photo shoot, but we can still appreciate the work for its purposes here in Bangkok.

Soe, Nut and Patricia on the plane

Following the event, we reflected on our busy day and relaxed at the hostel for a bit before taking some time to “play”. We went to the game venue next to the hostel to learn how to play a video game. Soe and I challenged each other on a projected Super Mario Kart until we were too tired. So back home we went for a night’s rest before a busy day home to northern Thailand the next day.

Lensational Ambassador Patricia Lois Nuss is a practicing artist and educator specializing in photography. She received her MFA in Emerging Media and her BFA in Photography, both from the University of Central Florida. Her artwork has been exhibited nationally within both conferences and exhibitions of the Society for Photographic Education, and her work has been featured within the Select International Art Fair of Art Basel Miami, Maryland Institute College of Art, the Orlando Museum of Art, and Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, among others. Visit her website at www.PatriciaLoisNuss.com.