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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 22, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 8
Picture This: A Wealth of Free Photos for Nonprofit Storytelling

Young girls at Nwamba school in Bugiri, Uganda, promote education for girls.
Photo by 2006 Karen Smith/MSH

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

A picture can say a thousand words, but it certainly doesn't have to cost $1,000. In the case of Photoshare, a picture doesn't cost anything at all.

A free online service of the School of Public Health's INFO Project, Photoshare boasts an extensive and constantly growing archive of public health-related images that nonprofits can use for documentary and educational purposes.

The often-striking images cover such topics as family planning and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, environment, democracy and governance, and humanitarian assistance.

The site offers such pictures as a determined group of teachers on their way to school, walking bicycles through a flooded road in Kenya; and Indonesian children rinsing off with fresh water, provided by an aid group, after the Great Tsunami of 2004 destroyed their town.

Users can search the site by topic, keyword, country, region, project and even a photographer's name. Photoshare images are credited to the photographers and agencies, which retain their copyright but relinquish permission rights. Contributors can even track use of their images.

Started in 1998, Photoshare arose out of the school's desire for a better in-house photo repository and the larger need in the nonprofit community for images associated with public health. Its mission is to help nonprofits worldwide communicate health and development issues through photography.

A polio-affected boy participates in an athletic meet organized for slum children by the nongovernmental organization Pustak in Chandigarth, India.
Photo by 2006 Pradeep Tewari

The project is funded by a grant from the United States Agency for International Development and is based at the Center for Communication Programs in the school's Department of Health, Behavior and Society.

Photoshare's impressive user list includes the United Nations, World Bank, Peace Corps, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, to name a few. Its online database currently contains more than 13,000 images — and it's about to grow even more.

Since 2003, the project has held an annual photo competition to help populate the site and find the most arresting images.

The Fifth Annual Photoshare Photo Contest, which kicked off in early August, is open to both amateur and professional photographers. The deadline for entries is Nov. 16.

The photos will be judged in December by an independent panel and the winners announced in January. Top prize is $1,000 and a Canon digital camera, with other cash and prize awards for second place, third place and individual categories.

David Alexander, director of the project and creator of the photo competition, said that the contest has proven to be a successful method to mobilize photographers who want to share their work for charitable and educational use. Last year, the contest drew nearly 1,000 submissions, with roughly 70 percent coming from photographers based in developing nations.

Alexander joined the Photoshare staff in 2002, shortly after graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he majored in photography. He is responsible for managing and screening incoming requests, promotion and oversight of new acquisitions, scanning and retouching images, providing technical support to Photoshare users and contributors, and serving as in-house photographer for the INFO Project (Information and Knowledge for Optimal Health).

He said that Photoshare each month receives about 90 requests and sends out roughly 500 electronic images, both low-resolution images for Web use and high-resolution pictures for posters, brochures, magazines and other publications.

Photoshare accepts nearly all photos that fall within its topic areas, Alexander said, and many come from amateur photographers.

The Photoshare collection is intended for the objective and accurate representation of a real situation, subject or physical location. The site tells potential contributors to be aware of country laws governing photography practices and ethical issues, and Alexander says that contributors need to examine whether subjects may experience negative consequences of having their photo used.

He said that he's constantly amazed by the scope and quality of submissions.

"You never know what you are going to get when you open a file. Some are troubling pictures, perhaps of children suffering from malnutrition, while some are purely inspirational images," he said. "They all go to good use."

His favorites? Alexander said he has many. One of them is last year's contest winner, which shows a polio-affected boy, waist down, running in a children's athletic meet organized by a nongovernmental organization in Chandigarth, India.

The judges called it "a stunning picture with a highly dynamic foreground," including the boy's twisted right ankle on the verge of slipping out of his shoe.

"We don't often get the chance to see the soles of shoes in photography," the judges wrote in their comments. "And this one really does it well."

To see all the images or to enter the contest, go to


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