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Filipina Nat Geo Young Explorer Issa Barte leads vivo Imaging Academy Masterclass

Barte’s “Impact of Storytelling through Purposeful Photography” class tackled how to create social media-ready images for advocacy awareness

To change lives through storytelling using the art of photography is to fuse imagery with advocacy, social consciousness, empathy, integrity and respect.

For Issa Barte, artist, photographer and 2021 National Geographic Young Explorer, this meant photographing real on-ground situations and sharing the images with the world, hoping they reach enough viewers who would then be challenged and moved to think of solutions and effect change that ripples.



In the second installment of vivo Philippines’ Imaging Academy online masterclass, Barte and her students, themselves young advocacy leaders, talked about the value of photography as a tool to show realities that would have otherwise stayed hidden and the value of social media as a channel to raise awareness about these stories.

The first day of the masterclass tackled ethics and purpose, with Barte sharing her pro tips.

On the second day, the students shared their photographs, each taken with the vivo X80 series and showcasing the students’ advocacies.

A movement of not forgetting

As the co-founder of For the Future, an NGO run by young people fueled by storytelling and photography, Barte has witnessed how photography can move people, create empathy and ignite change. She stressed the importance of photography as a great tool for social change using her Bicol 2020-2021 photo series as an example where she showcased the devastation several typhoons left the region and their way of life a year after the tragedy, when everyone else has moved on.

Through these photographs, she hopes to remind the country of the victims’ situation after the donation efforts have stopped and media attention has run out.

Barte talked about photography as an enabler. She explained that photographs enable people to gain awareness or see things differently and have another perspective, which gives them the freedom to challenge the norm and change the narrative. This difficult yet necessary work is what she called the movement of not forgetting, the act of photographing real lives and real people and the images created being a way to remember realities hard and painful they may be. These realities include those of typhoon and climate change victims who place their hopes on photographs of their circumstances to secure help for basic necessities such as food, slippers and roofs over their heads.

Barte’s pro tips

Before sending off her students to put their lessons to test, Barte shared four pro tips to create better photographs and tell compelling stories.

Foremost is to remember ethics – to ask permission and share one’s goals with the people being photographed or the subject.

Second is to build a relationship with the story and the people. This means allowing yourself to be vulnerable to your subject so they can in exchange be vulnerable and comfortable in front of the camera.

The third tip is to use the background to help tell the story. Lastly, Barte said to use a reliable smartphone camera, a more accessible and less intimidating tool for creating portraits and intense situations. Barte says the vivo X80 series’ ZEISS natural color, auto focus and ultra-wide-angle lens features are vital in accurately capturing human emotions and expressions as well as on-ground scenes, including those in climate crisis-devastated areas.

Recognizing the power of modern technology to raise awareness and inspire action, Barte sees the smartphone as a very handy tool to capture on-ground situations. She further says that the smartphone is a good device to break the barrier between the photographer and the subject who can be alienated by big, bulky cameras. She recalled how she started as an amateur, and encouraged her students to start where they are and with what they have.

Photography and storytelling do not discriminate whether you use a professional or a smartphone camera, Barte shared. “What matters is the story you’re telling and your willingness to share it with the world,” she added.

The two-day vivo Imaging Academy masterclass ended with the students sharing their photographs and the inception, goals and progress of their respective projects. Barte concluded the class by saying that stories, when shared using the right tools, deliver a message that then become an inspiration or a symbol of hope, which is exactly what the world needs today.

Toward owning your masterpiece

The vivo Imaging Academy masterclass series hopes to give Filipino photography enthusiasts a chance to own their masterpieces by refining their skills. New York-based expert photographer Michael Halsband shared his insights on how to create powerful photographs by capturing authentic details and expressions during the first vivo masterclass session released a few weeks ago.

Other professional photographers such as Peter Van Agtmael, E-Jay Zhang and Raul Romo will lead their own vivo Imaging Academy masterclass episodes where they will share their photography philosophy and discuss strategies and tips.



You can check out upcoming episodes of the vivo Imaging Academy on vivo Philippines’ Facebook, YouTube and TikTok platforms.

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