ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 5, Winter 2012

Documenting the darkness


Another day, another celebrity scandal. Fed up with important stories being ignored in favour of gossip and intrigue, a Sydney duo have joined forces to tell a different tale. Alisse Grafitti spoke to ACU graduate Nikki James about the Gallery for Justice. 

Beggars renting a baby to earn more money on the street. School children wading through  after at high tide to reach their classroom. Children as young as five digging through rubbish dumps in search of recyclables. Heard about it on the news lately?

When social entrepreneur Nikki James and documentary photographer Mark Tipple realised that the Kardashians were getting more coverage than cholera, they decided to do something about it.

“Mark was working at a digital agency at the time, so he was seeing what images the mainstream media were buying and getting extremely frustrated,” Nikki said. “When I quite flippantly said why don’t you just start a not-for-profit, sell your photos, and raise money for these people yourself, I realised that maybe we had an idea here.”

Backed by the Salvation Army, Nikki and Mark launched Gallery for Justice. The idea was to combine the photo and story into the same frame, and create a gallery of photos on a particular subject.

The collection would then be shown – in cafés, art spaces or office buildings – and the limited-edition photos available for purchase. All money raised would go directly back to the grassroots charity working with the subjects in the photos.

They decided to start with Indonesia – where Mark had spent several months with his camera in hand.

“Having worked closely with organisations on the Indonesia reportage and having to then tell them that the images weren’t receiving any light in mainstream media was disheartening to say the least,” Mark said.

“What seemed so simple when I was there – focus on the story, and the rest will happen in due time, was anything but. Nikki’s idea gave me a unique platform to ensure that the people who had trusted me with their story would be heard.”

Chasing the Jakartan Dream documents urban poverty in Jakarta and the work of both Roostien Ilyas, founder of the National Commission for Child Protection in Jakarta, and the Pelita Ilmu Foundation, which supports activities for the families of people with HIV/AIDS.

Nikki said that although photography was the particular tool they were working with, it was also perfectly suited to their subjects.

“Mark has this incredible gift of photography which he’s using to share the stories of people on the other side of the world,” she said.

A health sciences graduate from ACU, Nikki said she hoped that seeing what they had achieved would inspire others to use their skills to make a difference. Gallery for Justice is also a great opportunity for corporate businesses and not-for-profits to work together.

“I was often very frustrated working in the not-for-profit sector where many people were negative about big corporates, yet then they’d turn around and ask them for money,” said Nikki.

“They didn’t want to engage them at all, they just wanted the funds.

“There are so any corporations in developing countries, it would be great to do a series about the people in these communities. If the company then purchased the prints and hung them in their lobby, they’d not only be giving something back, but involving their employees as well.”

The next project Nikki and Mark have their sights on is a children’s home in Jamaica for kids who have HIV/AIDS.

“We don’t ever want to go in thinking we have all the answers, so we find a project that we can add our weight to,” Nikki said.

“We’ve already started raising the funds we need to go over there and shoot, and spend some time with these people and get their story. You can’t just go over there and take some photos; you actually need to find out what the realities of their life are.

“The concept is simple enough. Encourage conversation and inspire others to spread the story. It all helps.”

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