Filling in the Frame: The Untaken Photo by Nancy Farese of PhotoPhilanthropy

Carter Center-3

Do you know the photo of the young Vietnamese girl crying, naked, her face straining to scream of the terror from the clouds of smoke that are behind her as she flees? She is on a road surrounded by other children, and you can almost hear their screams; they seem so scared. Oddly, there are U.S. servicemen on this same road walking away from the smoke, calmly adjusting rifles and checking radios in what is apparently a mundane activity. The little girl is maybe 10 years old.

This 1972 photo by Nick Ut had tremendous impact on the way Americans saw the Vietnam War; it is an unsettling and evocative account of the human cost of war. This image touched the American public in a way that words had not, driving social awareness and ultimately influencing governmental war policy.

Do you also know the full frame photo of children’s faces? It is a telephoto image, so the many faces appear tightly compacted. The children are young, under 6 or so; we see every race and hair color, every size and every emotion. They are wiggly and energetic, and you wonder that the photographer got them all to stand together long enough to take the picture. One child looks directly at the camera, and you go immediately to her eyes. You can detect a tentative openness and a hint of confidence. She is maybe 5 years old. She is one of thousands of children that have benefited from the refuge, stability and support of the Respite Home of the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center.

Do you know this photo? No? That is because it hasn't been taken yet.

The untaken photo is the purpose of PhotoPhilanthropy. We know that photography has always been a powerful social change agent. We know that there are thousands of organizations around the world doing great work every day. We also know that there are thousands of photographers around the world who want to be part of this work. We connect them.

As a Social Documentary photographer and Founder of PhotoPhilanthropy I am driven by the untaken photo which tells the untold story. I consider myself lucky that my camera allows me access to amazing people working with non-profits and NGOs addressing profound need in their communities. As photographers, we are constantly navigating the continuum of hope and despair in our subjects. Yet the nature of NGO work is that people are addressing need in their community; they are forming soup kitchens, sheltering animals, fighting against poison in their water. There is great work being done to meet need. My role is to provide the untaken photo to document the work, and get it out to as broad an audience as possible.

Once, I was with The Carter Center in Ghana photographing the people who have dedicated their lives  to eradicating one of the world’s worst scourges; the guinea worm. We sat out of the equatorial heat in the shade of a huge tree, as locals gathered to be checked out and get the new nets that are so important for filtering water to remove the larvae. Kids gathered to see what was going on, and a beautiful young girl walked up gracefully balancing a huge washing dish on her head. She laughed and jostled around with her friends, taking in the message about filtering of water and hygiene, all the while effortlessly balancing her load. Guinea worm is an ugly 3000-year-old parasitic disease that kills and maims so many, and yet The Carter Center’s work is diligent and effective, dramatically improving the chances that this beautiful girl will live a healthier life.

I get to tell these untold stories with my camera.

PhotoPhilanthropy brings stories in by awarding high quality images taken on behalf of non-profits all over the world; we currently have work from photographers in 88 different countries. Our development process includes programs that connect, educate and inspire non-profits and photographers in capturing and using the images for effective storytelling. Finally we get the stories out on all media platforms and through a prominent Exhibitions Program that brings international visibility to the photographers and the non-profits.

As you imagine the photo of the girl in the crowd of young faces, think about the power of the untaken photo, the photo that instantly and implicitly communicates an emotion powerful enough to drive social awareness of an issue or an organization close to your heart; a story that needs to be in the frame, and told to a wide audience. That is what we do.

For more information please contact Nancy Farese, Founder and Executive Director of PhotoPhilanthropy, via email:

All photographs by Nancy Farese.