Why young people are the key to unlocking a world of authentic and powerful stories

Supporting the young to tell their stories is essential or we’ll miss a world of understanding, says Peter Bragg, Canon EMEA’s Sustainability Director.
A young girl in a pink headscarf stands in front of graffiti of angel wings, so that they look like they are hers. On either side of her, with backs to the camera, are two people taking her photo.
Peter Bragg

Written by Peter Bragg

Sustainability & Government Affairs Director, Canon EMEA

The universal language of photography has incredible strength. It bears witness to change in the world, delivers powerful messages and brings people together. When we think about equity and equality, we need to challenge societal norms by offering different perspectives. But how do we do this?  A good place to start lies in creating opportunities of access – to equipment, education and platforms – that can inspire and encourage the young to share their perspectives on the world. 

Photography can bridge knowledge disparities by bringing to life the stories of all people. It portrays the minutiae of everyday life just as much as tales of unsung heroes, and this is, perhaps, its most important role in changing misconceptions. For young future leaders, photography circumvents language to present important truths on topics that are both global and personal, such as gender equality, climate action, poverty and health.

Of course, ensuring storytelling is consistently diverse is not as simple as it sounds. We must always consider who is telling the story, who is featured and who is receiving it. To create true diversity, we must reach further than skin colour, sexual or gender identity. It’s about bringing in people with different points of view and experiences of the world to change existing bias. We know that images have enormous power and can both affect and influence which, in turn, has the potential to bring about cultural and behavioural change.

However, imprinting images into minds and sparking emotional responses are only part of a far bigger jigsaw puzzle. To complete it we must look to education and a campaign of awareness in critical issues, as well as creating accessible opportunities for all to voice what matters to them and speak their truth. Naturally, we rely on the things we’ve seen when we try to form an understanding of places in all their historical and cultural depth, especially if we have not visited them and may ever do so. In this context, it stands to reason that people, places, and stories should always be presented with accuracy and authenticity. When we see a third person perspective, we are outsiders looking in. But when personal stories are shared directly, we are witness to emotional complexity, nuance, detail and context that can transport us.

Children peering through the viewfinder of Canon cameras that look oversized in their little hands. They are in a truck with a tarpaulin roof and open sides, taking photos on safari.

Visual storytelling is not just an art, it’s a way to connect people with their communities.

Fresh perspectives

When we work with young people, our goal is always to put the creative power in their hands, simply providing access to experts to guide them and the technologies to realise their stories. Since 2015, our Canon Young People Programme has reached over 6,750 participants across 27 countries by working with more than 50 local NGO partners. Recently, we expanded the programme through our ‘inspiring change initiative’ and have been able to reach more young people and organisations than ever before, holding workshops in ten new countries including France, UAE, Kenya and DRC.

Several such workshops were held during the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. As part of the Games’ ‘Bring the Power’ youth engagement programme, young locals were asked to share their stories and views on sustainability issues through the medium of photography. Together with the Ideas Foundation, a non-profit which aims to open the creative industry to all, we gave the youngsters hands-on training, but also made the space an open forum for the young people to use images as a means to share thoughts, ideas and opinions. Canon Ambassador Clive Booth, who facilitated the workshops, spoke of the impact that sharing stories has on others and the power each narrator wields in their work: “when we enable others to tell stories, it is they who become the teachers and us who become the students.”

"When we enable others to tell stories, it is they who become the teachers and us who become the students.”

A shared blueprint for building a better world

As well as carving out space in the wider dialogue to present new ideas and perspectives, visual storytelling is incredibly powerful in moving people to action by spreading awareness and sharing truths. Through it, our Canon Young People Programme seeks to nurture connections between individuals and their communities and does so by introducing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. One such community is that around Kruger National Park in South Africa, where there was a troubling gulf between the local young people who lived nearby and this world-famous safari destination. Many had never set foot inside, let alone seen the extraordinary animals within first hand. With the Wild Shots Outreach programme, they were taught the art of visual storytelling and given an opportunity to learn about the impacts of poaching, climate change and other aggressors that threaten the planet and its wildlife – then illustrate this through photography.

The programme was hugely successful in spreading awareness and moving people to act for a better world and we are continuing to partner with Wild Shots Outreach as it starts its first course in Namibia. Here, unemployed young people will learn photography, wildlife tourism and conservation, using a camera for the first time to tell their stories.

This is the way to change: empower smart, passionate and driven young people, and support them in telling the kinds of stories – their stories – that truly communicate important realities. Because visual storytelling is more than just a well composed picture. It can give words new meaning. Photography, video and other visual art forms are mediums that can challenge our beliefs and provoke new feelings in a very real way. They have the power to fill hearts with emotion, yes. But, just as importantly, they can change minds too.

Learn how we are empowering the next generation through our Canon Young People Programme.

Peter Bragg Sustainability & Government Affairs Director, Canon EMEA

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