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As a professional landscape, travel, and humanitarian photographer, Colby Brown has worked all over the globe in various environments documenting various cultures. In particular, his humanitarian photography has helped Colby to separate his name from others in an otherwise crowded photo industry. In 2011 he founded The Giving Lens, an organization that attempts to blend photo education and give back to local communities through sustainable development project. He brings photographers from all over the world to unique destinations with the goal of both furthering their photographic skill sets while also helping various important causes, such as clean drinking water, child education, women’s rights, species preservation and more. Being a professional photographer, educating other professionals, Colby has no interest in compromising quality. Furthermore, when traveling to isolated and challenging locations, reliable gear is a must. When Colby visited a Maasai warrior tribe in Tanzania with The Giving Lens, he captured the images using a Phase One camera system equipped with an IQ260 digital back.
Could you shortly describe the idea behind The Giving Lens (TGL) and what you hope to achieve through it?
The idea behind The Giving Lens is simple, to provide opportunities for photographers from around the globe to help make tangible differences in the lives of the individuals and communities of developing countries. We blend the idea of photo education with support for sustainable development initiatives. We do this by taking teams of photographers, with various skill sets and backgrounds, to countries such as Tanzania, Peru and Cambodia. They not only learn how to become better photographers, but also help various causes such as clean drinking water projects, child education, women's rights, species preservation and more. With each trip acting as a fundraiser we donate up to 50% of the proceeds from the workshop. We hope to expand our operations around the world and help raise as much money and awareness as possible.
What are some of the more unusual experiences you have had when working on The Giving Lens project?
Every trip with TGL is different and unique because we take a very organic approach to helping the organizations and communities we connect with. It is through these connections that we are allowed to have access to individuals and families that wouldn't normally speak with us, let alone allow us to document their lives. A great example of this is the work we do in Granada, Nicaragua. We work with an NGO called Empowerment International, which focuses on child education for poverty stricken families. The majority of families that they help live in barrios/slums just outside the city. When our team gets to Granada, we get the amazing opportunity to spend a number of days walking through these barrios and documenting the lives of these children at home. For our participants, this is an eye opening and heart wrenching experience as most Westerners have never witnessed true poverty or seen the perseverance and hope that these kids embody first hand.
You don't work with people who are used to being in front of the camera, what do you do to make them feel at ease?
The key is to make people feel human. It is far too easy for photographers to treat other human beings as objects or simply photographs when they are traveling. They stick their cameras in strangers faces while walking through a city or a village and wonder why people are put off. For me, I generally have my camera hidden away in my backpack when I first enter an area. When I find a subject I know I want to photograph, I will try to get to know them first. Ask questions and engage with others in the area. Once people realize that I actually care to get to know them, they bring down their walls just a bit. You would be surprised at how easy it is to break the ice with a stranger by simply engaging with them first on a human level.
What was the reaction of the people you photographed from the Maasai tribe? The initial response through to the final images?
I think many people around the world don't realize just how special and powerful a photo can be. With the Maasai, many of the families and kids I documented had never seen a photo before, let alone one of themselves. Needless to say they were amazed, especially the children. Digital photography has allowed us to share these images instantly with those we photograph. The next step for TGL will be to get a number of images printed from our time with the Maasai and have them delivered to the families we worked closely with while in Tanzania.
After having worked with the IQ260, which feature would your highlight as the best / most important in your line of work, and why?
I would have to say the improved dynamic range and incredible pixel detail. When working with a large medium format sensor such as the one inside the IQ260, you have the potential to capture an incredible amount of light and detail in every one of your images. I fell in love with the Schneider Kreuznach 80mm f/2.8 lens as it allowed me to bring a photo journalistic style to my images with the Maasai, in addition to offering incredible sharpness and smooth bokeh.
"When working with the IQ260, you have the potential to capture an incredible amount of light and detail in every one of your images."