An Open Letter…
Dear Contributors to The Everyday Projects,
As we launch our new website, housing the collective Everyday Projects under one digital roof for the first time, I’m writing this to put some thoughts in order, to encapsulate for you our incredible progress over the past few years — to imagine myself in your shoes as you may also be reflecting on your participation in our great experiment.
First and most important — thank you. Thank you for being a part of this. Each day, I see more and more value in what we do, the window we provide into daily life the world over. Sometimes I have to remind myself of our remarkable gift: what we provide cannot be found elsewhere. It is that simple, and it is that important. This year more than any other, I’ve often felt I’m living in a world gone mad — the rise of intolerance on so many levels, the loudmouthed politicians who willingly seek to turn us against each other, and yes, the din of an often fear-mongering news and entertainment media. At times like these, it seems the only sane action left is to elevate the everyday to its greatest importance, to use our social media presence as our own barrage of imagery, tearing down the imaginary barriers that separate us. All of you manage to do this with a shared intimacy and insight, yet with a style that is your own. I can only say again, thank you.
Austin and I have been working to establish The Everyday Projects as a non-profit organization. In August 2015, we met for the first time with our Board of Directors: John Edwin Mason, Stephen Mayes, Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel, and Sara Terry. Together, hosted by our partners at Open Society Foundations, the six of us reviewed all that we had achieved so far: the global proliferation of Everyday feeds; publications, exhibitions, panels, and talks around the world; our classroom curriculum and educational workshops, throughout the USA and in Mombasa, Kenya; our online platform; our massive audience; our stellar photographers. We identified our goals, and our hopes, and crafted this mission statement:
The Everyday Projects uses photography to challenge stereotypes that distort our understanding of the world. We are creating new generations of storytellers and audiences that recognize the need for multiple perspectives in portraying the cultures that define us.
We are a network of journalists, photographers, and artists who have built Everyday social media narratives that delight, surprise, and inform as they confront stubborn misperceptions. We believe in developing visual literacy skills that can change the way we see the world.
We work to achieve this through a variety of platforms and activities, including our Everyday Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter feeds, and our websites, exhibitions, workshops, lesson plans, books, and festivals. We connect classrooms and communities from disparate parts of the globe and foster mutual acceptance.
With this in mind, we’ve been working on the following:
- A new website: Designed and powered by our friends at Storyfriend, and funded by our partners at PhotoWings, the site embraces the multitude of voices that is inherent in modern digital storytelling. It is an elegant and beautiful visual experience in which one can view the “official” photography from each Everyday project, as well as the the user-submitted content, via hashtags, from our broader community. It accomplishes one of our earliest goals: storytelling from a range of perspectives, the so-called professional and amateur voices and visuals alongside each other. It is also a space for you, the members of each Everyday project, to put your best feet forward, displaying your accomplishments, special projects, and latest news. Most of the core Everyday projects have adopted the website — others will join us in the coming months. The main page and Everyday Africa page also include our curriculum as a resource for educators.
- This publication: I’m really thrilled to announce that Elie Gardner and Danielle Villasana, two of the cofounders of Everyday Latin America, have stepped up to become our Community Team. We are incredibly excited and eternally grateful. They will be working to elevate the profiles of photographers across our network and to share the latest news from Everyday feeds. This publication will be their main vehicle. You can expect interviews, analysis, opinions, and news briefs to appear here and be promoted on the Everyday Everywhere social media feeds. Elie and Danielle will write, and so will others — feel free to pitch them ideas. Is your Everyday project holding a special exhibition or event? Do you have a story about how looking at the “everyday” has influenced you or your vision as a photographer? Tell us about the technology, people, and photography that are inspiring you.
- FotoIstanbul: This is the second year in a row that The Everyday Projects have been invited to exhibit at FotoIstanbul, and we are solidifying this relationship — we will have a presence there annually, along with an Instagram photo contest. It will be a place to mark our progress each year and to announce new Everyday feeds that have joined our family. Many thanks to Jason Eskenazi for inviting us to the festival last year, and to Attila Durak for inviting us to continue exhibiting there.
- Education: In the past two years, Austin and I have seen more than 2,500 middle and high school students in the USA, using the story of Everyday Africa’s genesis and development to teach about stereotypes, photography, how journalism is made, and truth in storytelling. Most of this work has been carried out hand in hand with the Pulitzer Center, with whom we created this curriculum that we encourage anyone to use. Next, with a grant from our new partner PhotoWings, we’ll be enhancing the curriculum, adding video lessons so that we can “be” in more classrooms.
- Workshops: Last year, we added another dimension to our education programming: simultaneous photography workshops with high school students in Mombasa, Kenya, and Chicago, USA, during which the students communicated via Skype. They spoke to each other with surprising sincerity and heart about the stereotypes they are shown of each other’s country, and then shared photographs of their own daily life. We hope to repeat this cross-cultural program once a year in different locations.
- Book and Theater: We’ve been working on an Everyday Africa book (out this November) and theater production (yes, that’s right, theater) that explores the relationship between the photographs and Instagram commentary and the various perceptions we cast upon a continent. You’ll be hearing more on these items soon…
All of these assets are for you to take advantage of. The one nut we have not managed to crack is how to monetize this platform — we wish that we could pay contributors to The Everyday Projects, but we cannot now and perhaps never will be able to. Instead, we encourage you to use us — use the tools that we have created, broadcast yourself on the platform, promote your projects and publications. This all exists to help you reach the widest audience you can. It is worth mentioning that photographers have been given assignments because editors found them on one of the Everyday feeds, and that each TIME Instagram Photographer of the Year for the last three years — as long as the title has existed — has been affiliated with the Everyday movement. (An editor who recently went from TIME to Instagram pointed this out to me, saying that being involved with Everyday is like a seal of approval.)
We (Austin and I) never could have planned for this, never could have imagined that this is where Everyday Africa would take us when we made those first images nearly four and a half years ago. On my most optimistic days, I see the future of journalism as a symphony of voices that cuts through the cacophony — the increase in ‘citizen journalism’ and ‘user-generated content’ not a threat, but another thread creating a richer tapestry. To that end, we’ve also tried to provide more opportunities for our contributors, via platforms like Blink and the African Photojournalism Database, our project with partners World Press Photo.
It is a strange position to be in — to walk the line between an “organization” and a “movement”, taking delight in its organic growth while knowing that even a tiny semblance of structure will help move it forward. We’ve had missteps; we’ve had initiatives and partnerships that we later realized weren’t a great fit. In this brave new world of media, of experimentation, it all helps us move forward — even the mistakes have helped us grow. We’re glad you’ve been here with us. Our door is always open — as we continue developing Everyday, we look forward to your thoughts, advice, insight, and feedback.
What is the Everyday? More than four years on, it is still difficult to define. The best we’ve done is to invite photographers from varied regions and backgrounds, and then provide little instruction — just share your story. Show us your Everyday, however you interpret that word. We are not, and have never been, an attempt to gloss over the devastating news that has dominated recent headlines. Instead, we pay tribute to the people behind those headlines, and to those who go on living their lives in spite of them. The Everyday family includes a great number of people for whom the act of living is a protest—and so, make no mistake, telling the stories of their daily lives is also a protest, our own flowing declaration that the commonplace is important.
Here we are.
Best, and Onwards,
August 15th, 2016