Social travel: how to give something back to the cities we visit

“There is a beautiful beach anywhere in the world, it means nothing. For us, the reward is to see the reality with our own eyes. And with photography we can bring these stories to our world and share problems with more people. You can see a beautiful sunset anywhere in the world, but it doesn’t communicate anything about the culture, about the people in their daily lives. We tried to warn about what is happening and create a social awareness that anyone can help” — Stephanie and Francis Lane

Silent Tapes is a photographic project by Francis and Stephanie that went viral on Instagram on 2013 and today has a community of 32 thousand followers. Together they create portraits in poor urban areas of different cities, showing the daily life beyond the tourist spots. The idea is not to shoot fancy artistic portraits, but mix art with philanthropy and give the income collected with the content to help local families and non-governmental organizations.

Today the couple live between England and America in a truly cosmopolitan family. Stephanie’s father is from São Paulo and her mother is from Florida and Francis family has half Chinese half English origins. They found love in New York, where he worked as a model and she was trying to make a living from offices work and dreaming with an acting career. Together they developed photography as a hobby, first exposing sensitive details of their love and then to trials in scenarios that shows some kind of vulnerability.

Today they share the camera, the Instagram and a friendly 5 yo daughter, Von, an Icelandic name to “Hope”, who had drawn the entire bedroom wall with colored scribbles when we visited their apartment. “We work enough to pay the bills. We are happy to have a roof to sleep and our basic needs, we don’t need more than this. The experience is itself enriching.”

Stephanie says that having a daughter becomes the inspiration for the project even more personal. “This things touch me by both the maternal perspective as the child is there, exposed. The idea is to show these needs to Von and give strength to her to be a thinker, a gentle adult.”

Graduated in music in London, Francis was inspired by the backstage fashion sessions and clicks of famous photographers such as Peter Lindbergh and Cartier-Bresson. But he wanted more, his desire is to give something back to the residentes of poor cities.

“We love to travel, but we don’t want to only take without giving anything in return. So we decided to create the Silent Tapes to give something back to these people”, he explains. “For us, every time we travel, we want to know the good and bad side of the places, all aspects. If you don’t know these places you will never know the reality of this society.”

Stephanie tells me that the Silent Tapes idea came from their first trip to India two years ago, when she was looking for a volunteer work as an experience. “Art has always played an important role in my life. I always pursue careers in music, acting or photography and on the same time, I always been interested in jobs involving charity since I was a little girl. I grew up in a family that lived on the poverty line and the connection with art kept me out of trouble.”

Mr. Udom (Klong Toei , Bangok)

Volunteering in India motivated them to create the first project in Klong Toei slum in Bangkok (Thailand), where the project helped 200 children and was conducted with independent crowdfunding. The idea caught the attention of Instagramers as Manuel Pita (@ sejkko) and began to spread, raising the money in the first weeks of the project. The material resulted in prints, posters and an exhibition with the proceeds reversed to a local NGO.

“We tried to create a natural relationship, we didn’t want to be invasive. So we printed some photos we took to give to the people. One friend was telling the other and people came looking for us to chat and have a portrait. We also know a Thai woman engaged in social projects, she helped us a lot to reach people. Today she still visits the families we helped and bring us updates of their special needs”, explains Francis.

The couple also believes that if you want to create a philanthropic project, you must be sensitive not only at the time of the click, but in the entire universe that involves the community and transparency. “We try to connect with people, hear their stories and if the situation seems perfect, we click. Our proposal is not clicking out everything we see.”

One such story is related to mr. Udom, a 80 yo Thai gentleman who was clicked while playing with one of his seven poodle puppies. The frail man who appears in the photo became progressively deaf, partly is fault of the poor health system offered by the government. Yet he allowed the couple to share their story and narrated with short messages scrawled down on a paper. Weeks later after the couple come back, he passed away and the money raised by supporters of the project helped his wife with some basic needs. “We want to share these experiences and promote small changes.”


In 2014, they already have the new destination: Brazil and the World Cup. The project “50 Kids / 50 cameras” had all the money collected in just four days on Kickstarter, the couple’s first experience on the platform. The supporters are mainly Brazilians and foreigners interested in knowing local stories out of vehicles from the mainstream media.

“Apparently there is only one in Fortaleza orphanage and is completely over capacity. Because of that, there are some families who adopt children voluntarily but can not cope with the paperwork, so some children do not exist for the government. Our idea is to show the lives of these families, keep up with these requirements closely. We have no sort of connection with governments and large organizations, we follow those small orphanages together with my brother and For the Children, a local NGO.”

Besides a documentary short film and volunteer work, the couple will buy 50 disposable cameras and teach 50 children to show the daily life in the community for their own perspective. “We want to create a force in these kids through art, to give a voice to these children,” says Stephanie. Among the rewards for collaboration, are a compilation of photographs and writings created by the children, an exhibition in New York with selected images and the distribution of the book to schools and community centers in Ceará.

* Images kindly provided by Silent Tapes, send an e-mail before reproduce.
* This article is part of some experiences with english writing and translating, please leave your comments if you have any suggestions☺