Unexpected gifts from Thailand...

Workshops with Purpose logo She was a little hesitant about walking in to meet her portrait subject for the first time, having left her camera back in the hotel room. Typically, this would mean a reschedule of the session, but in Thailand, we intentionally arranged for our workshop photographers to meet their subjects, even have dinner with them, sans camera. The intention was to lead with our desire for human connection, not our lenses. There would be ample time to photograph over the next couple of days, and some of the photographers, and subjects, would end up having powerful experiences that would forever change them.

One of our projects at Team Kubota (Kubota Image Tools, Asukabook USA, Kubota Photography) is an international travel program called Workshops With Purpose. Benjamin Edwards, and I created this program years ago after several of our own international service based photography projects. We discovered that donating our photography skills to charitable organizations, to help them grow awareness and give support to the communities, was a powerful and rewarding gift to give.Soon we realized that other photographers were eager to change the world with their photography too, but unsure of how and where to start — giving birth to WWP. As a team, we learn and actively work together — providing photography and video services to charitable organizations around the globe.

One of the things we've learned is that it is rarely a good idea to charge head strong in to a new environment, camera blazing, hoping to get meaningful images. If our subjects feel like, well, subjects, then the photographs will rarely convey depth or intimacy. It takes time, and desire, to connect on a neutral human level first — then photographing can unfold much more naturally. Ironically, the photographs are sometimes the least important part of our visit. The fact that we took the time to care, to listen, and to commit to understanding can make a world of difference to someone living in constant hopelessness.

Each photographer on this Thailand trip was assigned to an individual child or young adult. They spent the first evening just getting to know each other, no cameras allowed. On the second and third day, they hung out again and created a "Day in the Life" photo essay of their student.Some of the students were refugees from another country trying to make a better life in Thailand. Some were going to school successfully for the first time, working towards a future free from poverty and abuse. All of them were students with The Freedom Story, an organization committed to providing education and safe after school activities for children, to prevent their stumbling in to the path of human trafficking.

At dinner after the third day with their students, one of the photographers shared her incredible experience. She had made such a deep, and powerful connection with her student that she literally could not give account of her day without becoming awash with tears. She realized at last that her entire "purpose" for coming on this trip was simply to meet and encourage this young student of hers — showing her that others saw her potential, and her beautiful, shining light.She knew that her student felt her life was forever changed by the caring support and connection she had made with this outsider — now an insider.

As photographers, we have tremendous opportunities to open doors and walk deeper in to the lives of others. When we remember that our cameras are instruments of connection, not just capture, then our own experience of the world is exponentially enhanced. It is a rich and important responsibility to have, and when we honor that power, bringing mutual respect and sincerity with us, we can change the world — even if it happens one person at a time.

Learn more about this workshop and sign up to be notified of the next Workshop with Purpose.