Making a difference through photography

There’s still time to get your application in for BeCause’s annual Urban Exposure Project! That’s right — we’re extending the deadline to Monday, February 11. Here, past participant James Koslowski reflects on his experience with the Urban Exposure Project.

I’ve always loved photography and the synthesis of photography and volunteering seemed to be a perfect fit.

Last year our theme was family and our goal was to bring awareness to issues that families face and the agencies in Calgary that support them. We met every week and our sessions were a mixture of presentations from local social agencies, tours of agencies and discussions about photography.

We had three professional photographers who donated their time as mentors. They taught us about the basics of photography, lighting, how to approach strangers for photos. They took us on photo walks where we practiced what we were learning.

One highlight was the tours we took of various social agencies. I was particularly affected by our visit to the Discovery House women’s shelter. It’s a fortress of security with a secret location, video surveillance, round-the-clock security staff and a set of double-locking doors called the “man trap.” For women in abusive relationships, the Discovery House meets the fundamental need of a safe shelter. Something that I take for granted. What stood out to me are the things left behind by children. Their left-behind toys and art made me realize that children are often the silent and unseen victims of family violence. If the Discovery House can give these children a respite from a toxic home life, they have a better chance of growing up to be healthy adults.

The Urban Exposure Project isn’t what I expected it to be. I thought I’d be doing more hands-on volunteering. I thought it would take a lot out of me, that I’d be doing a lot of giving and that this would be a challenge. On the contrary, I found that the project invested in me. It helped me develop as a photographer. It showed me need in our city and made me want to meet that need.

Photography is a powerful storytelling tool. United Way empowered me to tell the stories of others and bring awareness to need in our city.

—James Koslowski is a technical writer in Calgary and a past Urban Exposure Project photographer. He dreams of making a difference in society and is passionate about using photography to bring social change. James took the above photo, of his niece Hope, as part of the project.

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