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The First Photovoices Project: Ann McBride Norton’s Journal

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

Ahnanzhu: 36-year-old Tibetan man; Yubeng Village ©

We huddled around a wood fire at twilight in the traditional courtyard, the vast expanse, of the 6700 holy mountain of Melixueshan towering overhead, its glacial surface still visible in the fading light. We have traveled by plane, bumped for a day over narrow, rough roads and trekked uphill for 6 hours to reach this tiny Tibetan hamlet in China’s northwest Yunnan Province.

I came to talk with local villagers about a project called Photovoices, to gauge their interest in helping conservation efforts by taking photographs of their traditional culture, their daily lives and the stunning and ecologically rich world around them. The language difficulties seemed to frustrate my best efforts. As I finished and sat quietly I wondered if the translation from English to Chinese to Tibetan at the end made any sense at all. Then an old man with his hat pulled low on his head spoke up: “I understand. We can’t read or write but these photographs can speak for us.”

In the years since I wrote those words, Photovoices photographers from Yunnan China and other special places in the world have brought us into their lives and honored us by sharing their cultures and religion, their natural surroundings, the joy, hardships and rhythm of their daily lives. Perhaps most important, this understanding comes not from the lens of a photojournalist but through the eyes of the people themselves.

Ann McBride Norton, Founder, First Director and Senior Adviser Photovoices International

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