A Recipe for Social Awareness: Food Journalism through Photography

Photographer Bill Barrett, professor in the Department of Electronic and Photographic Media, in the School of Communications at Webster University, documented the lives of El Salvador refugees during the 1980’s bombing campaign.  Professor Barrett’s poignant photographs serve as an appeal for compassion and social awareness. 

A Recipe for Social Awareness:  Food Journalism through Photography

A Recipe for Social Awareness:  Food Journalism through Photography 

Children with milk ration, Mesa Grande refugee camp, Honduras.  Bill Barrett. 

Nutrition center, Mesa Grande refugee camp, Honduras.  Bill Barrett. 

The photographs Children with Milk Ration and  Nutrition Center are a statement of a world much different from ours, and in a profound way, help us to appreciate how much we really have.   We have interviewed Professor Barrett on his choice of subject and his thoughts on the power of the lens.

What was it about photography that drew you to pursue the field on a professional level?

The truth is that I fell into photography. It wasn’t what I planned as a career, but opportunities kept coming my way. One thing led to another, and I never looked back or regretted my path.

What was the inspiration behind the photographs Children with milk ration and Nutrition center?

In the early 1980s, thousands of refugees were fleeing to neighboring Honduras from El Salvador as the government there engaged in a massive bombing campaign in the countryside. I went down to the refugee camps in Honduras, working with several non-governmental organizations. These two photos were in the Mesa Grande refugee camp in Honduras, where I was working with the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker group). I was trying to show the daily life of the refugees, but above all to keep their individual humanity foremost.

How did your subjects respond to the photographs?

I visited the refugee camps with some frequency, and always brought prints of my photos from the last trip. I became friends with a number of the refugees, and made many portraits at their request. Eventually a group of refugees asked me to teach them photography, and we did. (A tent inside a tent can make a reasonable darkroom.)

Do you feel photography has the power to convince the public to take action against social injustice?

In my personal experience, yes. I gave many talks about the refugees and their situation when I was back in the States, and used my photos to show their situation. In addition, they were widely published and exhibited at the time. For many people, the photos were evidence that made the story of the refugees become more real. For the refugees, it empowered them to document incursions of the Honduran army into the refugee camp.

As a professor, what is the most important message that you want your students to walk away with?

You have something to show the world that no one has seen before. Pay attention, and you will figure out what that is. Learn another language; it will open more doors than you can imagine.

Images published with permission from Professor Bill Barrett.  


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