Every day an average of 1.8 billion photos are shared on social media (according to Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report), that’s 657 billion photos every year. We now live in a world where billions of people have high-quality cameras in their pockets on their phones, ready to snap and share their experiences online at any moment (I certainly do).
Because of this, I feel like the life and value of a photo is rapidly diminishing. No longer do we print pictures, put them in frames on our walls and stick them in photo albums to show our friends over a cup of tea. A photo is just uploaded to Facebook or Instagram and is forgotten and lost between the billions of other photos uploaded around the world within hours. On average, a photo only lasts 2.8 hours on Twitter and just 3.2 hours on Facebook before it’s probably forgotten forever.
This is not the case for dozens of photos that I took in Malawi this summer. This June I took a Polaroid camera with me to visit our water projects across the country and capture images for the community that would last forever (see photos below).
In between repairing water pumps, visiting new boreholes and getting involved in school feeding programmes, I took the opportunity to snap pictures of the friends I made in each community. A whole crowd would then race over and watch in awe as the Polaroid developed and a snapshot of that one moment in time appeared like magic in their hands.
I was told by a village chief that this one photo, given as a gift to each friend I made, would be this child or person’s prized possession forever. They would keep it by their bed or stick it on a wall and look at it every day – no one in their community had a treasure like this. One elderly man I took a picture of could not stop smiling when I gave it to him. Later it was explained to me that he had never even seen his reflection before, let alone a photo of himself, and he was overwhelmed with happiness. The same happened with every child I gave a photo to as they gazed with disbelief at their very own image of themselves for the first time.
It was just a small gesture, but giving away these Polaroid images meant so much more to me than taking photos on my iPhone and sharing them on Instagram with a filter and hashtag. These photos wouldn’t get ten ‘likes’ and then disappear in 3 hours – instead they will be loved, cherished and admired for a lifetime by dozens of people whose lives have changed forever now their community has clean, safe water to drink. I’ve stuck a collection of these photos on my wall by my desk in the office, as it’s these incredible individuals and their stories that inspire me and the team at One to do what we do each and every day.