Taking Pictures, Changing Lives: How a Hertfordshire photographer changed thousands of lives
PUBLISHED: 19:01 08 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:22 28 October 2020
Adam Dickens 2019
A trip to a Zambian school sparked an idea that has helped tens of thousands of people in need around the world. Here, St Albans photographer Adam Dickens discusses the work of Taking Pictures, Changing Lives
With a lifelong love of photography, Adam Dickens had always believed in the adage ‘a picture tells a thousand words’, but now he has seen how powerful that truth can be.
Over more than a decade the photographer and designer has helped charities raise in excess of £2m by travelling the world to document their work then donating his photography.
The 49-year-old, who lives in St Albans with his wife and daughter, has enabled these charities to have a positive impact on the lives of more than 100,000 people.
Recognising that large humanitarian causes rely on expensive publicity campaigns to help generate public support, Adam noticed that smaller struggling communities didn’t have the same opportunities.
He has now made more than 70 visits to charities and social enterprises who work with some of the poorest communities around the world - taking hundreds of thousands of photos and gifting them to the organisations to help them raise their profiles.
His charity work began 11 years ago, when he first travelled abroad to help a charity that had a school in Zambia, funded through a school in St Albans. It was so successful that he hasn’t looked back since.
‘I was sent to Zambia to take some pictures and then we held an event in London, hiring a gallery and showing my photos. We raised £45,000 on that evening, which was amazing.
‘Not all charities have the same kind of connections and that started me thinking that I could offer my services to different charities. Since then I have made over 70 trips to charitable projects in total, on four continents.’
A life-changing moment came in 2014, when he was involved in a terrifying road accident in Uganda. Until that experience, trips had been self-funded through kind friends and family donations. But the incident led him to question what he was doing.
‘I was in a Land Rover near the South Sudan border and we swerved to avoid hitting a bus that was driving out of control. I could have died that night. I had to decide if I wanted to carry on doing this.
‘My real passion is photography. I absolutely love taking photos. My challenge was it took time. I had spent a total of six months away from my family and work. People say I have a gift, and I love what I do and want to make a difference and it was my choice.
‘But I couldn’t carry on unless I asked for help, so I told my story to the world and so many people said “yes”.’
Taking Pictures, Changing Lives has raised more than £100,000 to pay for the cost of trips through crowdfunding. But because crowdfunding isn’t always the best way to resource projects in the longer term, Adam aims to help fulfil demand for his growing organisation in a more sustainable way.
Recently gaining charitable status, the foundation will continue to tell stories through supporting and investing in photographers who are local to the projects in Asia, Central America and Africa.
‘It already partners with three photographers in Rwanda who work across Africa on commissions for Taking Pictures, Changing Lives. They are paid for their time and skills. One of them has been able to buy land and build a house.
‘The plan is to find slightly bigger charities that can afford to pay for our local photographers, then the profits will pay for the smaller charities that can’t afford our services.’
The impact of the work can be immense. A two-week trip by Adam and a filmmaker friend to a community living on the edge of a railway line in Uganda and farmers in northern Ghana resulted in raising more than £700,000 for a children’s charity after the film and photos had an incredibly positive impact.
Adam’s growing global team, which now includes filmmakers and writers as well as photographers, documents the work of non-government organisations that provide education, safe water and health care. They are stories of resilience and hope.
Adam is also focusing on raising awareness of the work of Taking Pictures, Changing Lives, to help it improve the lives of even more people in struggling communities.
He was thrilled to pick up the charity champion accolade in the 2018 community awards held by the Herts Advertiser, our sister newspaper, which recognised his generosity and spirit.
He says the charity work has been transformative for him personally.
‘I was a bit stuck 11 years ago and it was a lifeline being sent to Africa, out of my comfort zone. These trips have totally changed the way I think about and see the world and have made the world seem small, in a good way.’
Luckily, Adam’s vision to travel less himself but rather empower local photographers has meant the work has been largely unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Using local photographers also means cutting down on international plane travel and carbon emissions. Costs are lower and trips more sustainable.
‘Our aim will always be to share the stories of people living in some of the world’s poorest communities and to raise awareness and funds for the charities that are supporting them.’