Documenting everyday life around the world, one Instagram post at a time

The GroundTruth Project recently spoke with Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill, co-founders of The Everyday Projects, an umbrella of Instagram feeds focused on telling balanced stories around the world. From The Everyday Projects:

The Everyday Projects are a network of journalists, photographers, and artists who have built Everyday social media narratives that delight, surprise, and inform as they confront stubborn misperceptions. Beginning with Everyday Africa in 2012, the concept quickly spread to all corners of the globe, with dozens of Everyday feeds on the continent, region, country, city, and even neighborhood level. We use photography to challenge the stereotypes that distort our understanding of the world.

We work to achieve this through avariety of media and events, including our Everyday Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter feeds, and our websites, exhibitions, workshops, lesson plans, books, and festivals. We connect classrooms and communities from disparate parts of the globe and foster mutual acceptance.

The GroundTruth Project reached out to six emerging photographers working with the Everyday Projects to share their images and hear their thoughts on documenting everyday life around the globe using Instagram.

Tom Saater , Everyday Africa, @tomsaater:  Tom Saater is a social documentary photographer, photojournalist and cinematographer from Nigeria. He focuses on human rights, social justice, portraiture and reportage. His work has been exhibited internationally, including in the 2015 Venice Bienniale, at Oxford University, at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, and twice in the Addis Foto Festival. He has been published in media outlets including The New York Times, The Economist, Bloomberg and the BBC, and commissioned for international NGOs including Human Rights Watch, UNHCR and Amnesty International. In 2015, he was nominated for the Magnum Emergency Fund. He has twice been selected to participate in the Invisible Borders trans-Africa road trips.

GroundTruth: Tell me about your Instagram feed. What do you strive to show with Everyday Life? Why is it important for you to be making this kind of work?

Tom Saater-3305
Tom Saater

Tom Saater: I use my Instagram to share my work on issues or topics that I’m interested or drawn to. I want people to look at my images and not turn away. Instagram has given me a platform to share my work to a different kind of audience globally.

There is so much happening around us, each passing moment, and I strive everyday to photograph those moments. It’s important to make this kind of work, to create awareness and maybe to pause and reflect in the fast-paced world we are living in through photographs.

GT: What are some of the common stereotypes in Africa that you see or hear in the mainstream media?

TS: The common stereotypes I hear and see of Africa in the media is war and suffering. There are lot of untold positive and exciting progressive things happening here, which the mainstream media don’t project much. As a photographer living here in Africa and witnessing both worlds, I have a responsibility to tell and share both stories.

Tasneem Alsultan, Everyday Middle East,  @tasneemalsultanTasneem was born in the United States and educated in England, returning to Saudi Arabia for her undergraduate studies. She received her master’s degree from Portland State University, and her project  focused on the ethnographic study of Saudi women abroad. After years of teaching in universities between Saudi Arabia and the United States, she ventured into photography. After shooting weddings for five years, she now uses her storytelling experience to document human rights specific to gender and social issues.

GT: Tell me about your Instagram feed.  What do you strive to show with Everyday life? Why is it important for you to be making this kind of work?

Tasneem Alsultan: I see my Instagram as a personal/professional online platform that I can use to express my activist opinions, with my wedding photography in Saudi. I show what I see around me in Saudi, or when I’m traveling. And just as with my SLR camera, I want to have the viewers learnTasneem the story, whether it’s from the caption or preferable through the image alone.

GT: What are some of the common stereotypes in the Middle East that you see or hear in the mainstream media?

TA: That people in the Middle East live a life that includes only violence. To exhibit any civilization beyond the desert, seems to be surprising to many. But the mainstream media is now in our hands. So Instagram has given me, as a photographer, and as a Middle Easterner, a way to bridge the differences between people around the world.

James Rodriguez, Everyday Latin America, @mimundo_org: James Rodriguez is a U.S.-Mexican documentary photographer who has been based in Guatemala since 2006. His work primarily focuses on post-war processes, human rights abuses and land tenure issues in the region. His long-term project “Guatemala, Life After Genocide” was featured in the New York Times Lens blog and screened at the 2015 Visa Pour L’Image photojournalism festival in Perpignan, France. He is a member of the @EverydayLatinAmerica and @EverydayGuatemala Instagram communities and was awarded First Place in the 2015 POY Latin America contest in the “story with a phone camera” category.

GT: Tell me about your Instagram feed. What do you strive to show with Everyday life? Why is it important for you to be making this kind of work?

James Rodriguez: I feel the work I produce is the result of my life experience. My long-term documentary projects involve issues that I myself want to learn about. So digging deep is a way for me to both learn and share my findings. Nevertheless, through Instagram, I have found another important outlet that allows me to share constantly and immediately what I hope is information that can both break barriers and build bridges.

Photo credit: Mark Abramson

I am originally from Mexico City but migrated to Los Angeles in my early teens. It was a very difficult period of adjustment.  But having lived on both sides of the border, I can understand many of the stereotypes that have developed and how damaging these can be. So, in reality, my everyday life images are primarily directed to an audience in the Global North as a way to provide a different narrative on what life is like in Latin America, but primarily Guatemala and Mexico, where I spend the most time.

GT: What are some of the common stereotypes in Guatemala/Latin America that you see or hear in the mainstream media?

JR: Unfortunately, stereotypes are born from a lack of knowledge on certain issues. And I feel many in the Global North do not know what life really is like south of the border. Guatemalan campesinos (farmers), for example, are tremendously hard working people who care for their environment, yet they are portrayed as lazy and ignorant. Many have suffered horrors that most of us cannot even fathom. The effects of the 36-year bloody Guatemala civil war are still fresh, and yes, there is plenty of violence. But I honestly feel your average American or Canadian has no idea why there is such a strong flow of migration from Mexico and Central America. I like to believe that if folks in the North can understand the roots of poverty, violence, social inequality, in addition to getting intimate access to the life of normal people in the South, attitudes and policies would change towards greater openness and cooperation.

Zulfadhli Zaki, Everyday Asia, @zulfadhlizaki: Zulfadhli Zaki graduated with a diploma in Photography Technology in 2012. He first started photography as a hobby, and he decided to pursue his passion in Photojournalism at Industrial University Selangor (UNISEL), Malaysia. He is one of a few of Malaysian photographers to host a fundraising photography exhibition for the NGO Next Generation Nepal during the Nepal earthquake in 2015. His work has been published in SinarHarian, The Sun Daily, Solusi, Dewan Budaya (DBP), Newzulu, Citizensides, Newsweek, The New York Times, and Times.

GT: Tell me about your Instagram feed. What do you strive to show with Everyday life? Why is it important for you to be making this kind of work?

Zulfadhli Zaki: My intention using Instagram is to share the situation of everyday Malaysian life. I like to show the power of the mobile phone in this day and age as one of the best mediums for communicating. It’s in everyone’s hands and is far more effective and faster than a traditional camera. We can make pictures of what we want to convey and keep people aware of their surroundings instantly. Most of my pictures I take are of daily life, oriented in a journalistic way. I am always trying to highlight specific issues in my every day pictures.


GT: What are some of the common stereotypes in Malaysia that you see or hear in the mainstream media?

ZZ: Many of the common stereotypes in Asia are among young people. The majority of people are Muslim and the young people are clashing with the serious consequences on social issues in Islamic culture. Whether it’s the rift in marriages, drug abuse, or young people dating without limits, these are serious in Islamic law. This clash is connected within a lot of other issues. Recently, I’ve been working on my personal project about mental disorders in this region.

Tatiana Fernandez Geara, Everyday Latin America, @tatiluka: After years of working as a graphic designer and photographer in advertising, Tatiana Fernandez started documenting the lives of ordinary people. Based in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, she works as a freelance photojournalist for local clients and international media outlets. She got her master’s degree in photojournalism at the University of Missouri. While in graduate school, she started telling stories through moving images. Her MA final project was a short multimedia piece that later became her first feature-length documentary film: “Nana” (English title: “Nanny”) about the lives of Dominican live-in nannies. The film is currently in the festival circuit.

GT: Tell me about your Instagram feed. What’s your intent?  What do you strive to show with Everyday life? Why is it important for you to be making this kind of work?tatiana-headshot

Tatiana Fernandez Geara: My Instagram feed is a combination of reportage but also personal diary. It’s my break from my professional work as a journalist. I publish photos of whatever I find visually interesting. So they may not be newsworthy for other outlets, but they’re moments I like to share with friends in a “Hey, look what I just came across of today” way. I think we’re all usually living our everyday life bored of doing and seeing the same things over and over again. And then one day a ray of light hits a plant in an unusual way, or a truck stops next to you in traffic and a pig sticks its head looking at you out the back… You just have to notice it, wake up and feel inspired to see life  differently again.

GT: What are some of the common stereotypes in Dominican Republic and Latin America that you see or hear in the mainstream media?

TFG: Violence, drugs and poverty are the common stereotypes in the media when it comes to covering Latin America.

Ahmad Mousa, Everyday MiddleEast/Iraq, @ahmadmousaBorn in 1991 in Iraq,  Ahmad Mousa is a photographer and a video reporter. His work has appeared in Time magazine, the Washington Post, New York Times, the Guardian and elsewhere.

GT: Tell me about your Instagram feed. What’s your intent?  What do you strive to show with Everyday life? Why is it important for you to be making this kind of work?

Photo credit: Sara Leana Ahmad

Ahmad Mousa: My Instagram feed is my own stage where I can post what I like on it, and the fact the people interact with the pictures, write comments and give feedback makes me happy in a way that keeps me doing mobile photography. I try to show pictures from different aspects and angles in my society and the country. What is important for me is the story behind the picture, the artistic way of taking it and the documentation for its moment.

GT: What’s your goal and vision as a photojournalist using Instagram?

AM: I love photography and it’s been always a hobby and interest until it became a profession. With a mobile phone, I can take pictures of day life scenes from Iraq and share them with thousands of followers, and the feedback I get is very supportive. [The commenters] give me motivation to post more pictures. Much of my work is news-focused and Instagram gives me the opportunity to express my personal vision and love for photography.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.