Agent of Change
You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus — Mark Twain
If there were one sentence that could sum up Josh Schachter’s philosophy towards photography, teaching and life, Mark Twain’s would come closest to doing the trick. A highly accomplished artist with a penchant for world travel, Josh has photographed, traveled and worked around the world including countries such as Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Tanzania, India, Nepal, Indonesia, among others. He has spent ten years photographing the impact of community urban forestry on the revitalization of New Haven, Connecticut; teaching photography and multimedia storytelling to youth in his home state of Arizona and across the globe and freelanced as a photographer for such notable institutions as the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, The Trust for Public Land and Peabody Museum of Natural History.
In his own words, Josh says, “Photography has allowed me to be both an observer and agent of change. As a photographer and teacher, I strive to use my images to encourage others to open their eyes and minds to their own world and the world around them. My hope is that this raised self-awareness will help unheard issues and voices be shared, and that positive change will follow.” Josh’s observant nature, combined with all of his traveling, photography and cultural exploration, has given him cause for reflection, “Why am I traveling all over the world to understand different cultures when I really don’t even know my own community?” It is exactly this question that has lead Josh to implement his most compelling project to date.
As someone who has experienced cultures all over the world, Josh began to question why he knew so little about the numerous cultures in his own hometown – Tucson, Arizona. So he called the International Rescue Committee in 2007 and asked if there might be an opportunity to link photography with the voices of Tucson’s refugee youth. This call eventually led Josh and ESL teacher, Julie Kasper, to create the Finding Voice project.
Finding Voice is an innovative literacy and visual arts program dedicated to helping refugee and immigrant youth in ESL classes at Catalina High School in Tucson, Arizona develop their literacy and second language skills by researching, photographing, writing, and speaking out about critical social issues in their lives and communities. Since 2007, Josh and Julie have worked with youth in Tucson from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burundi, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Iran, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Kuwait, Liberia, Mexico, Nepal, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Russia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Turkey, Yemen and Vietnam. Youth work through the creative process of brainstorming, drafting, revising, and finally publishing powerful and thought-provoking pieces about their lives and communities.
As Josh puts it, “What I really focus on is the language of photography and how to convey passion and metaphor through the camera. It’s not about me wanting them to become photographers. I want them to become civically engaged and critical analyzers of the world.” As a result of the students’ passion, their work has been featured in galleries, civic spaces, bus stops, magazines, and books throughout the country. After the first year, the work of Finding Voice students garnered so much attention that they were invited to Washington D.C. to exhibit their photographs and writing in the U.S. Senate and to present their stories and policy recommendations at a Congressional briefing.
Nobody could be more proud of Josh for all of his successes than Tusker Trail’s own Eddie Frank. Eddie led Josh on his first trip through Africa when Josh was a young teen and has watched him come into his own in a way that has far exceeded the high hopes he had for him.
The seed for travel, exploration and a desire to understand people and cultures on a deeper level was planted at an early age in Josh’s head. When he was a teenager, his mother, a renowned ceramicist, and father, a successful lawyer, had signed up with Eddie to take the family to Africa and experience the Rwanda gorillas. Due to the filming of Gorillas in the Mist and a temporary ban on tourism in the region, Eddie was forced to cancel that trip. Instead, he invited Josh’s family on a three week, multi-country journey through Africa that ended in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
“The opportunity to visit Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar as a 16 year-old was absolutely mind blowing,” says Josh. “We camped in Masai Mara, the Serengeti… we even camped in Ngorongoro Crater which they don’t allow you to do anymore. It was the opportunity of a lifetime that most teenagers don’t get to have.” Eddie’s extensive experience and passion for Africa served Josh and his family well. Josh goes on to say, “Eddie’s charisma and passion inspired my whole family. He has exhaustive knowledge of the ecology and socio-cultural character of each place he takes you. What he truly excels at is offering you a direct connection to the land and to the local peoples and cultures you experience on your trip.”
Josh credits Eddie with significantly raising his awareness of cultures, languages and the entire experience of travel. Eddie’s guidance in the early years has led to “years and years of my joy for traveling,” says Josh. He has been back to Africa numerous times since, both with Eddie and alone. When he went to rural Nigeria in 2008 to create a photography program for teenage girls, he went to Eddie for help. “I needed help with the logistics of bringing equipment into the country and finding power to operate my equipment. Eddie has been doing that kind of stuff for years and he provided me with invaluable information I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.” On the flipside, it has been a joy for Eddie to watch Josh grow from a boy to a man – one who has a big heart, a social conscience and goes out of his way to help kids. “Josh is a person in whom I am extremely proud; and about whom I can’t say enough good things. He’s an artist, a high-achiever, extremely bright and he uses his talents to help young people. For all his successes, he’s also highly accessible. What he has done with Finding Voice, and all other projects he touches, is incredible.”
The lifelong friendship Eddie has formed with Josh and his family is a testament to the power of travel and connections you make while experiencing adventures together. For Josh, travel has opened up not only the world, but it has also helped him to find his calling and establish his unique voice. “I can’t overemphasize how getting comfortable with travel has allowed me to do what I do now,” he says.
With all the places Josh has been and all that he has accomplished, you might be asking yourself what’s next for this talented young man? Looks like the next stop is the Arctic, where he has been invited by the Arctic College in Nunavut, Canada to facilitate a photography and visual storytelling workshop with Inuit artists.
Josh is a highly skilled and talented artist, but more than that he is using his talent to make the world a better place. As Eddie says, “Josh may be soft spoken, unassuming and without ego, but the work he does packs a powerful punch and gets a lot of attention in all the right places. Furthermore, he’s a highly talented photographer whose original and imaginative work is both thought provoking and pleasing to the eye. It’s well worth your time to get to know more about this unassuming, yet dynamic guy.”
To learn more about Josh and experience his extensive portfolio of photographs, visit www.joshphotos.com
Josh is also involved in a photographic exhibit currently in Washinton DC – The Way We See It: Young Photographers Examine, Define, and Change Their World. This is a youth photography exhibit in Washington DC from June 18 – September 3, which focuses on a participatory educational process that fosters individual and community awareness, empowerment, and social change.
Tusker Trail and Eddie Frank look forward to many more years of friendship with Josh and his family.