Photographs of lasting value look at the world in which we live and work, empowering us to share what we feel is important in useful ways. These images become vehicles for understanding and for spurring action. Early in my career as a photojournalist, I documented the lives of coal miners for the United Mine Workers of America Journal. Those photographs captured not only the working conditions in America’s mines at that time, but also the strength and resilience on display among these workers with their families and in their mining communities. The photographs were part of a movement to fight for stronger safety and health standards when coal mining was the most dangerous job in the United States.
By creating images that evoke both a visual and an emotional response in the viewer, I sought to inspire people to stand with these workers in their fight. That’s why I’m so pleased to be helping the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) select the winners of its Picture It! Safe Workplaces for Everyone photo contest. I believe that a photograph is a valuable way to tell OSHA’s story and thereby inspire others to action.
How does one create a telling “image of safety and health at work?” For me it is important to be as clear as possible about the message you want the picture to convey. Much of the time in a workplace, the background of the photo needs to be simplified or under-emphasized to make the subject stand out powerfully. Successful occupational safety and health photographs can have lasting value, so give yourself enough time to shoot your subject in a variety of ways. You’ll be pleased by the enhanced results you’ll achieve when shooting a subject both vertically and horizontally, from varied angles and from various distances. By taking a little more time, you’ll be gratified by how your pictures’ success rates increase.
Creating photographs that speak clearly about health and safety concerns of importance to you has its own reward. You don’t have to be a professional photographer or a safety and health expert – anyone motivated to apply workplace experiences and creative energy to support a worker’s right to a safe and healthful workplace can create a meaningful image. I encourage you to give it a try.
It’s important to reach out to people to explain the ways we can keep our workplaces free of recognized hazards, but it’s also important to show people why, through the photographs you make. OSHA’s photo contest is your opportunity to help the agency preserve human dignity and the enormous potential of our fellow workers by capturing an image that moves people and casts new light on the work we do.
I’m looking forward to seeing your contributions and I hope you take as much enjoyment from your photographs as I’ve always taken from mine.
Please visit OSHA’s photo contest website at http://www.osha.gov/osha40/photo-contest.html to learn about the contest and submit your photos. The contest ends August 12th.
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Earl Dotter, an award winning occupational photojournalist. For forty years he has documented a wide range of workplace safety and health issues with a concern for the environment inside and outside the factory gate. The views expressed in this post are his own.