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The following is a conversation between Annie Griffiths, Executive Director of Ripple Effect Images, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.
Denver: My next guest was one of the first female photographers for National Geographic and has been to some 150 countries during her remarkable career, taking photographs that humanize all kinds of situations and cultures. She is also the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization called Ripple Effect Images, a collection of photographs that document the programs that empower women and girls across the developing world. She is Annie Griffiths. Good evening, Annie, and welcome to The Business of Giving!
Annie: Good evening!
Denver: Your love affair with photography really didn’t begin until college. How did you get the bug?
Annie: Right! I was a late bloomer. I think it came from the fact that my parents, when I was growing up, my parents always had National Geographic and Life Magazine, and I was intrigued with photographs, but it never occurred to me that I could make a career out of that. I pursued writing. I actually audited a class to learn how to use a camera better, and somebody didn’t show up the first day. The professor gave me the spot! So it was really like falling in love because two weeks later, I changed my major. I was gobsmacked.
Denver: It took instantly.
Annie: It took instantly. Yes.
Denver: What was it like being one of the first female photographers down at National Geographic? This was around 1978. Were there concerns about sending a young woman to far-flung places around the globe?
Annie: Well, yes, there were… and well-intentioned concerns. The biggest thing I recall is being terrified because I was not only one of the first women, but I was by far the youngest photographer there. And I was, in fact, being mentored by the great director of photography, Bob Gilka, who recognized that he needed to diversify his team. He was covering the globe with just a bunch of white guys. And so, a number of us were given a leap into the big magazine world because of Bob’s interest in grooming a greater variety of photographers.
Denver: You’ve said that it was actually a bit of an advantage being a woman working in this world.
Annie: Oh, huge advantage!
Denver: What were some of those advantages?
Annie: Well, I think that the most important element of photographing people is trust and earning their trust. And women just tend to be less…
Denver: More trustworthy, actually.
Annie: Yes. Probably more trustworthy, but less threatening. And people tend to be less on guard. Also, when I eventually had my kids, the fact that I was a mother was also kind of an equalizer. It showed me as a real human being, not just as this aberration who arrived from who knows where and was taking pictures. So, I’ve always thought it was a huge advantage.
The other advantage that I still love is that I was able to be with the women and therefore understand the underreported stories that rule their lives. And that is priceless. I could go where no man could go.
Denver: So you’re actually covering stories that had never been covered.
Annie: Absolutely! Yes. Still am.
Denver: That’s a pretty big advantage. I’ve so enjoyed looking at your work, and I truly appreciate it. I just wondered how you go about choosing the subject and telling the story… and maybe how that’s evolved since you first started back in 1978.
Annie: Well, yes. I think your radar improves. You get a sense of something is going to work or it’s not going to work. I think as you mature in any craft, you kind of see ahead and anticipate things better. It’s a good thing because when we’re young, we have so much energy. We can just go and go and go. And as time goes on, you sort of listen better on a number of levels. And that’s also part of trusting your gut so that you get to the subject more quickly. (more…)