Marcus Connolly, The Paisano
UTSA’s celebration of Women’s History month drew to a close on a high note last week with a President Romo-endorsed Professorship Lecture given by renowned National Geographic photojournalist Annie Griffiths.
Thanks to the Honors College and Professor Valerie Sponsel of UTSA’s Biology Department, Griffiths was able to bring her lecture series to campus for this “National Geographic Live!” event. Once the auditorium’s lights dimmed, Griffiths’ photographs and anecdotes elicited plenty of oohs, aahs, laughter and enthusiastic applause.
One of National Geographic’s first female photographers, Griffiths says she always wanted to be a writer, but after three years of studying journalism in college, she audited a photography class, fell in love with it and changed her major almost immediately. Now, she tells stories with her photographs, and her passion for what she does is palpable.
Most of Griffiths’ work focuses on women from around the world, inspired by her own mother’s desire for travel. Turned away from a job as an airline stewardess because she wore glasses, Griffiths’ mother instead became a pilot.
“I look for populations that are living on the edge,” she said, “and I try to tell their stories.”
Her storytelling has earned her many awards, but more importantly it has changed lives, even in seemingly hopeless circumstances. To do this, Griffiths created Ripple Effect Images, a nonprofit that uses photography to shine a light on the needs of women living in poverty, in order to match them to aid organizations which provide smart, sustainable programs to help them.
Women, Griffiths noted, are the key to alleviating poverty and suffering in their communities, because whatever knowledge or help they receive, they will share with their families, friends and communities. Griffiths emphasized that this is why encouraging females to receive an education is so important. Griffiths shared a story of an Indian girl she met who, orphaned as a toddler, was taken in by a woman who had lost seven of her own children as a result of malnutrition. The woman had just received seed money to start a small business, and when she began to make a profit, the first thing she did was send her adopted daughter to school. Griffiths flashed a photograph up on the screen. The little girl, certainly no older than seven, crouches next to her mother, who holds a pen and paper. She has taught her mother how to read and write.
Such are the kinds of women whom Griffiths photographs. They are not victims, but rather, they face obstacles and overcome them. Griffiths herself has been breaking stereotypes and pushing the limits imposed on women since day one. Some may think it is impossible to travel the world and be a good mother, but Griffiths did both, taking her children with her on assignments.
Griffiths stated that her daughter Lily “…was in thirteen different countries before she was born.” Others may think that simply being a woman in oppressive foreign countries would be a huge disadvantage; yet when the men she encountered told her “no,” she could not photograph them, their wives told her “yes.”
Annie Griffiths promotes a philosophy that highlights the good that women can spread. She mentioned that her mother did what she could to get around the challenges that life gave her as a woman. These are the women Griffiths has dedicated herself to photographing. And Griffiths, too, is paying it forward, especially to all in attendance at her lecture, as she advised them to not be afraid, and to “pursue your own dreams, and to be useful to the world, because of the great change you can bring about.”