How ViewFind is changing the landscape for visual storytellers
A Syrian woman and her relative collapse on the shores of Lesbos after safely arriving on an inflatable boat from Ismir, Turkey. This year has seen nearly 300,000 refugees making the Mediterranean crossing, trying to escape conflict and poverty in their home countries. Since 2014 over 6,000 people have died or gone missing trying to reach Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UNHCR. All photos courtesy of ViewFind.
By: Rachael Cerrotti
It is hard to be a visual storyteller these days. Newsrooms are shrinking and less money is being allocated to those spending significant time pursuing important stories. As a freelance photographer myself, perhaps the most daunting thing is to see extremely talented photojournalists and documentary photographers, whose storytelling I greatly admire, have trouble figuring out where they now fit in the ever-changing media landscape.
But ViewFind, a fresh visual storytelling platform is seeking to change this, one story at at time.
At just a couple years old, ViewFind has established a network of more than 3,000 accomplished photojournalists from around the world. Daily, they receive contributions from a diverse array of photographers who are passionate about sharing the stories to which they are a witness.
They are committed to being reliable, honest and transparent, searching for innovative ways to present content. They also are working on ways to monetize the work that photojournalists create, helping them financially support themselves. The goal, according to editorial director Judy Walgren, written in an interview published on Vantage, “is to disrupt the downward spiral of the photojournalism industry caused by the demise of legacy media.”
Back in April, ViewFind put out a call for uplifting stories, requesting “photo essays that empower and inspire our readers, but do so with a lighter touch.”
“It was feedback we were getting from the non-contributors that were saying, this is great work, but it is so depressing. There is no break. There is no variety,” Walgren told ivoh during a phone interview about what inspired their request.
In response, they had a number of contributions that fit the call and since then they continue to receive stories that fulfill the mission to diversify the types of narratives they want to publish.
“Overwhelmingly, I think that photojournalists err on the side of trying to change the world and telling stories that are pretty intense and that need to be told. But, even for their own self-care, they need to break it up a little bit,” said Walgren, who knows this from experience. She was a photojournalist for the better part of three decades and began her career in the late 1980s documenting the war and famine in Southern Sudan.
For these photographers who are out there changing the world, with the more traumatic stories as well as the light-hearted ones, a big thing that is missing is a support system, which seems to be shrinking more and more each day as more individuals choose, or are forced, to make the switch to freelance life.
ViewFind recognizes this. “We offer writers, we offer ux [user experience] designers, we offer great photo editing, which is something the freelance community at large doesn’t really have access to. Hopefully we can fill that gap,” Walgren said.
Photographers of any caliber are invited to contribute to ViewFind. Each story first gets approved by Walgren before being passed on to a team of editors. “There needs to be a visual narrative involved in the story,” Walgren said, when sharing what is required for a submission to be approved. “And, the quality of the photograph needs to be formidable.”
A few years ago, after a successful career in the field of photojournalism, Walgren decided she needed to return to school to get her MFA. This additional education and exposure to photography has led her to become very aware of the questions she is asking herself as she is editing and accepting stories for ViewFind’s site and highly-rated mobile app.
Walgren asks herself a range of questions as she sifts through submissions: “Who is telling the story? Who are they? What race are we? What gender are we? What level of privilege do we come from? And who are our subjects? What race are they? What gender are they? Where do they come from?”
For someone who has gone from creating content to putting stories together and working with storytellers, awareness and perspective are critical.
“This is what I am thinking about as I am editing, as I am accepting stories, as I am looking at the ViewFind page, as I am out there talking to contributors, as I am talking to photographers. It is in the forefront of my mind,” Walgren said.
The attention to publishing a wide range of stories, produced by a diverse group of photographers, is evident on ViewFind’s site with an option to search for stories based off of geographic location.
ViewFind has a very specific approach in how they publish their stories with a goal of the visual leading and the words being there to support the photographs. “Our model is to start with a short, powerful summary and then we create a narrative in between the photographs,” Walgren said. “The whole experience is immersive rather than fragmented. We are trying to put everything back together holistically.”
They also tell the story through a dual lens with the text. There is the photographer’s writing and then there is ViewFind’s writing about the photographer. Being a new publication, they are still playing around with their voice, an exciting task for those involved.
“We are totally flexible because we want to find the most effective way to tell visual stories. That is our goal,” Walgren told ivoh.
In September ViewFind will switch to a new platform and at that time will have the tools in place to track which stories are getting the most traction. This will help them as they move forward in figuring out which types of narratives are resonating most with their viewers.
They are also in the process of developing closer relationships with their editorial partnerships, which will offer their contributors more opportunities to monetize off of their work. For now, photographers have the option of releasing their story for licensing opportunities, or placing them in ViewFind’s network. “We also work on creating visual stories for corporations, for the fortune 100 companies that pay really well,” explains Walgren on how being part of their network can lead to well paying jobs.
In addition to publishing stories, ViewFind hosts webinars that offer opportunities for photographers who are seeking insight and guidance on everything from pricing their work to skills and information about covering stories in a war zone. They also offer grants and have a group of well-established photographers working as ambassadors on their behalf.
While not every story on ViewFind could be deemed a Restorative Narrative, what ViewFind is doing for photographers is reshaping how stories are published, giving visuals the attention they deserve and supporting the photographers who invest in telling stories through their lens.
Walgren explains, “We are trying to create a Restorative Narrative for the industry. We are trying to find alternative pathways to present, publish and monetize visual storytelling.”
Related: Photographer Manuel Rivera-Ortiz moves beyond the shock of poverty to capture humanity | Photographer Reza empowers refugee children to become witnesses of their own history | Journalism startup aims to change the way crisis is covered | How media practitioners can help ‘break the mold’