Community Photography: Capturing Unity Through Lenses

Community photography is for you if you’ve ever wanted to combine your passion for photography and activism.
Documenting different communities, needs, and perspectives, community photography can serve various purposes, from social change and cultural pride to general awareness and storytelling.
In this guide, I’ll cover the ins and outs of community photography, but if you’re looking for communities for photographers, check out our article on forums.

What Is Community Photography?

Community photography typically focuses on strengthening relationships, spotlighting specific cultures, advocating for change, or all the above.
Regardless of your intended message as a community photographer, you can count on community photography acting as a means of communication with your viewers — think National Geographic‘s 1984 Afghan Girl cover showcasing a powerful portrait of a young girl from an Afghan refugee camp.

The History of Community Photography

This history of community photography has roots that date back to the early 20th century.
Sociologists, such as Lewis Hine, were some of the first known photographers determined to show unfair working conditions, children living in poverty, and child labor.
Today, the mission of community photos is the same: to bring awareness to global issues, social issues, and other areas that demand exposure.

What Is the Role of Photography in the Community?

The role of photography in communities is wide-ranging depending on location, perspective, and the photographer’s individual interests.
Regardless, community photos serve a paramount purpose of highlighting occasionally controversial things to evoke emotion and change.
How Can Photography Help a Community?

In today’s world, many of us have undeniable privileges we aren’t even aware of related to race, gender, age, and more — and that’s where photography comes in.
Community photography can help an underrepresented community gain recognition by forcing us to take a look at different cultures, communities, and hardships all over the world.
Photography not only serves as a visual record of the people it captures, but on a broader scale, it can demonstrate prominent issues such as pollution, racism, and so on.
One of the best examples of community photography can be found in the work of African American photographer Gordon Parks.
Parks used his lens to create powerful photo essays that unveiled racial segregation and helped him become the American Society of Magazine Photographers‘ Photographer of the Year.
How Can Community Photography Help Create Social Change?

Because we live in a fast-paced digital age, community photography can be an extremely effective tool for igniting social change.
Most times, photos documenting history and events can be easily shared around the world through social media with links to fundraisers and petitions to promote social change via community photography.

The Ethics of Community Photography
As is the case with any style of photography, there is a code of ethics to keep in mind with community photography.
Whether you identify with the group you’re capturing or are a total outsider, you’ll want to make sure you have the consent of those you’re photographing.
You should also avoid sensationalism in community photography, particularly if you’re highlighting a sensitive topic.
There can also be a major imbalance in power dynamics between the photographer and subjects participating in community photography, so always be transparent about your goal and consider the long-term outcomes of your photos.

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Examples of Community Photography
If what you’ve read so far has encouraged you to explore community photography further, you’re in luck!
There are a ton of stellar community photography examples around, and I’ll cover some of my favorites below.
100cameras Project

Designed to give youths all around the world the opportunity to tell stories, the 100cameras Project is a community photography group committed to amplifying the voices of young people.
100cameras is grounded in a curriculum that teaches self-expression, industry skills, and storytelling across their community.
Humans of New York

Humans of New York is one of the most well-known community photography organizations in the world.
Dating back to 2010, Humans of New York started with a community photography-focused goal of illuminating the wide range of diverse residents in New York.
Today, Humans of New York’s community photography serves as a vibrant way to get a glimpse into the lives of different people on the streets of New York, bringing community to New Yorkers and others around the globe.

Help-Portrait is another excellent example of a community photography project.
This community photography group began in 2008 as a blog that showed photos of people in need and soon grew into a global movement designed to show different communities around the world.
Street Dreams Magazine

Street Dreams Magazine is another wonderful example of community photos at work.
An alternative art magazine, Street Dreams brings attention to a variety of cultures all around the world with the purpose of photos acting as a visual societal movement.
With each scroll of their website or Insta, you’ll see a mix of everything from candid street photos to luxurious studio photos designed to forge community.
Street Wise Arts

Street Wise Arts is another excellent example of community-building photographs.
Showcasing everything from local events, historic displays, and local stories, Street Wise Arts is a renowned nonprofit organization dedicated to creating murals, rallies, and programs that educate youths while amplifying diversity and encouraging activism and dialogue.
One of their latest Instagram posts dropped a knowledge bomb with a captivating mural of Martin Luther King Jr. on social media, informing followers of a little-known fact: Martin Luther King Jr. Day wasn’t even recognized as an official holiday until the late 1980s.
Other mesmerizing stories shown on their Instagram highlight local artists and their work.
British Journal of Photography

The British Journal of Photography features a smorgasbord of community photography designed to create unity and community.
Boasting a tagline of “art and activism,” it’s no surprise that the BJP’s website is covered with showcases that combine photographers, subjects, and activism.
If you browse their website, you’ll appreciate the clean, intuitive layout, as well as a plethora of activism and charity-focused feature articles.
Getty Unshuttered

Getty Unshuttered is undoubtedly a must-explore in the realm of community photographs.
Built as a platform for teenagers to explore their passions and become active participants in their community, Getty Unshuttered teaches youths how to become better photographers while encouraging them to be social justice advocates.

PhotoVoice is another top-notch example of community photographers and their photographs, as proven by their tagline — “ethical photography for social change.
PhotoVoice combines ethics with nature photography and community engagement in harmony with other photographs and stories that inspire.
Michael Elliot

While there are several organizations out there run by community photographers, there are also heaps of individual photographers who have made a substantial impact in the industry, like Michael Elliot.
Based in London, Michael Elliot’s website features an impressive portfolio that combines vivid architectural images and urban photographs with dramatic lighting.
And if you peruse his Insta, you’ll see eye-catching nature stories and controversial conversation starters that are sure to strengthen community, like the one shown above.
Animal Equality

Animal Equality is another community you should explore that uses photographs to create unity and elevate social activism.
If you scroll through their Instagram, you’ll see tons of ways to get involved in their community with activities that promote equality for animals, as well as stories related to saved animals and conference information for legal action.
East London Lines

A local, independent news site, East London Lines is another community of photographers and photojournalists I highly encourage you to explore.
Although their Instagram profile only has a handful of photos, their website is full of compelling news articles that inspire you to find a community with features covering everything from sports and local news to reviews for art and podcasts.

FAQs About Community Photography
Are there courses in community photography?

Some community photographers offer courses to teach you the skills they’ve learned. You can also watch expert-level tutorials on YouTube, like Marc Silber’s video above.
What are some community photography techniques?
Specific community photography techniques will vary, but a good rule of thumb is to capture landmarks in the area that represent the community and location you’re hoping to bring awareness to—think distinct parks, alleys, diners, etc. You’ll also likely find the groups of people you’re hoping to highlight here.
How does photography help society?
As noted earlier in the article, photography helps societies by sending a message with a powerful image or series of images. Whether the community photographer intends to evoke social change or spotlight historically underrepresented communities, their photos can make a huge impact.
How can photography help in promoting a community?
Photographers can effectively promote any community or subject by documenting the people, things, and locations that a group of people identify with.
Are there any well-known community photography artists?
Yes! Jeremy Cowart, Marc Silber, and Brandon Stanon are just a few of the most well-known community photographers.

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