Giving Back: Pro Bono Photo, Capturing History and Supporting Worthy Causes

Giving Back: Pro Bono Photo, Capturing History and Supporting Worthy Causes

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Every day, images reporting cultural, social as well as politically significant events fill our smartphones, TVs and publications.

Sometimes, amidst the steady stream of news updates, photo coverage will reveal signs of consequential societal change.

Case in point: The January 21, 2017, Women’s March drew record-shattering numbers of participants in the U.S. and in international capitals.

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Women’s March on day after inauguration; event led to founding of Pro Bono Photo. Oakland, 1-21-2017. @MaryMartinDeShaw, ProBonoPhoto.org

Moreover, photographers and videographers documenting these events—in urban, suburban and rural settings—posted images that underscored the growing role women are taking in leading social change.

Organizing photo coverage for that day’s historic marches in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose was retired California biophysicist and nature photographer Jack Owicki.

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Tree Planting at Belle Haven School with Canopy Teen Urban Forestry Students. East Palo Alto, 10-19-2019. ©Jack Owicki, ProBonoPhoto.org

For many of the photographer volunteers working those events, it was “a life-changing experience, one they wished to do more of,” recalls Owicki.

Further, inspired by their enthusiasm, he created an outlet for generating ongoing pro bono projects with worthy social justice, community service and environmental advocacy nonprofits. He named that organization Pro Bono Photo (PBP).

Pro Bono Photo: Fit for Our Times

Since its February 2017 launch, PBP has attracted 51 photographers who donate their time and expertise, serving a growing number of nonprofits.

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Women’s March. Hear Our Vote, San Francisco, 1-20-2018. ©Rachel Podlishevsky, ProBonoPhoto.org

Covering 700 events, PR shoots, et al., in 57 Bay Area cities, they have posted 65,000 photos and videos to probonophoto.org.

The website has received 8,000,000 clicks, and the images are reprinted by myriad organizations for fundraising and promotion.

To help manage the expanding operation, Owicki enlisted two Women’s March photographers to lend support.

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Historic California wildfires turned day into night, San Francisco, 9-9-2020. ©Steve Disenhof, ProBonoPhoto.org

Steve Disenhof joined his first protest in the 1970s. Alongside careers as a clinical social worker, stay-at-home dad and managing partner at a financial firm, he has worked for nonprofits and social service organizations, paid and volunteer, for decades.

Now retired, he’s a photojournalist for U.S. Press Agency and Pro Bono Photo. He also teaches an event photography workshop, works for Bay Area dance companies.

In addition, Disenhof supports the Daraja Academy of Kenya, a boarding school for talented young women of limited means.

Says Disenhof, “With Covid, political threats and climate change, we’re facing existential dangers the planet hasn’t encountered in millennia. As photographers, we have the power to magnify the message through organizations we support.”

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Pandemic 3 p.m. weekday “traffic” on Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, 3-26-2020. ©Terry Scussel, ProBonoPhoto.org

Terry Scussel was drawn to social justice events during the late ’60s. After a decades-long executive management career, his focus shifted to giving back to the community via photography. He is board president of Marin Ventures, a program for adults with developmental disabilities. In addition, he serves on county committees providing transportation for seniors and people with disabilities.

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Rise for Climate, Jobs, Justice March, San Francisco, 9-8-2018. @Alfred Leung, ProBonoPhoto.org

“PBP photographers approach each event as neutral observers—witnessing, documenting, respecting, storytelling as well as sharing our work—to support the organization’s message. They then deliver images in time for the next news cycle,” says Scussel.

Passion for Giving

Despite their diverse work backgrounds, PBP photographers share a passion for giving back via photography. Among them are the following.

Chris Cassell

“A retired aerospace engineer, I’ve sought ways to continue contributing through photography. Not politically active as a youth, I found my niche through PBP.”

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Families Belong Together March, Mountain View, 6-30-2018. ©ChrisCassell, ProBonoPhoto.org
Jim Colton 
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Rally Against Asian Hate and Violence, Palo Alto, 5-2-2021. @Jim Colton, ProBonoPhoto.org

“PBP gives me a chance to impact many social justice issues.

“My photography magnifies that impact because it reaches so many people.”

Mishaa DeGraw

“PBP gives me an opportunity to marry my commitment to social justice with my love of photography.”

Mary Martin DeShaw

“As each of us gives a little for justice, without personal recompense, there is hope for righting the wrongs of the times.”

Doug Kaye

“PBP provides a service to our community while helping photographers find events that we might not otherwise have an opportunity to cover. A classic win-win.”

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Community members don traditional Aztec costumes on Dia de los Muertos, San Raphael, 11-2-2021. @Doug Kaye, ProBonoPhoto.org
Leon Kunstenaar

“I have strong views about social justice. I have always loved photography and also have a professional background in computers. PBP combines all three in a satisfying retirement gig.”

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United We Stand for Ukraine, San Francisco, 2-26-2022. @Leon Kunstenaar, ProBonoPhoto.org
Alfred Leung

“Photography has wonderful artistic and engineering components. It’s a vehicle for better communities, a better world.”

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Women’s March protesting SCOTUS overturning Roe v. Wade, San Rafael, 6-24-2022. @Stephanie Mohan, ProBonoPhoto.org
Stephanie Mohan

“PBP has been life-changing. Working in the streets, away from my portrait studio, I’m excited to hone my skills, work fast, anticipate what people might do next as well as participate in something meaningful.”

Rachel Podlishevsky

“I wanted to use my photography skills while giving back to the community. Fortunately, I found PBP.”

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Vigil for George Floyd, Mill Valley, 5-25-2021 ©Marnie Walters, ProBonoPhoto.org
Portable Possibilities

Last year, the organization caught the eye of retired Ohio management consultant John Bacon. He wanted to start a PBP group in Cleveland.

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Protect the Election Results Rally, Oakland, 11-4-2020. ©MaryMartinDeShaw, ProBonoPhoto.org

“We gave Bacon advice on setting up Pro Bono Photo CLE (probonophotoCLE.org) and allowed him to use our name and adapt our logo. They kicked off in mid-2021,” says Owicki.

“The basic idea is portable. The key is finding someone who pays attention to detail, can work on the administration, has decent ‘people skills’ and can make vital connections with photographers and worthy nonprofits.”

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52nd Annual Pride Parade, San Francisco, 6-26-2022. ©Stephanie Mohan, ProBonoPhoto.org

For more information as well as images, go to probonophoto.org.

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