Elaine Pringle-Schwitter Event Photography Stories
“Stories have the power to transform peoples lives. Stories create change in the world. Stories become our legacy” Winnie Ojanga , Founder Her Voice
Let me tell you about a remarkable woman who is not only an award winning fashion designer, who not only does many hours of tireless charity work but has also started a movement in Switzerland that is now replicated by many because we are in an era where this is so needed, so desired and women want their voices to be heard.
Winnie Ojanga is a Kenyan born mother of 2 who, over a decade ago, followed her husband to be to start a new life in Switzerland. The full details of her remarkable story will be told I’m sure, but I would like to concentrate on her recent years in Switzerland when 2 years ago she developed a platform for women to have a voice and tell their story. She aptly called it Her Voice. Winnie states “Stories have the power to transform peoples lives. Stories create change in the world. Stories become our legacy”
As an event photographer, I’ve been there since the inception when I received a call from Winnie to check on my availability and be briefed about her concept. To be honest, I didn’t think too heavily about the work Winnie was doing, but more about the technical aspect of the shoot and the scope of the work required.
Winnie has now successfully ran three seasons of the Her Voice event and the fourth season is, as they say, loading….
I want to go back to the beginning. The first season. The first ever Her Voice event. I was still in my mode of technical shots I needed to get to satisfy Winnie. So I arrived and walked around the venue, making mental notes about angles and the images to make. In parallel, the audience predominately female were arriving. A sizeable number indeed. This event was adequately advertised on social media, so there was a sense of what was to come. There were eight speakers, some known in the Swiss community and others not so well known. Videography services were provided at this first event and you start to notice the anticipation of the audience. Winnie, her usual calm presence, carefully introduced herself and greeted as many people as she possibly could. Her assistance and helpers were there to ensure that the audience and especially speakers were welcomed, seated and directed to the conveniences as and when required.
I, as per usual, was fiddling with my various lens and doing test shots in preparation for the speakers. I was prepared and ready to do a good job for my client.
After the introductions, the first speaker came on. The speaker was a petite, unassuming woman originally from China who walked on stage and sat on the comfortable sofa some distance away from the audience. We all expected her to stand close and directly in front of the audience in a presentational form, but no. Instead she sat and almost as though she was meeting a friend for coffee in a very relaxed and nonchalant way. Legs crossed and one leg flapping as she held the mic in an extremely casual way not directly up to her mouth.
None of this bothered me as it makes for a good shot and will be one of the images that told the story of the event or so I thought.
She, the speaker, started her story tentatively. My thoughts were I need to capture the audience and their gaze. Ah yes, that will make a good shot to add to the final count of images that will be batched over to Winnie. The speaker voice was extremely soft and she was hesitant and sighed a lot. For me this was great to capture the facial expressions of the audience members and even the fellow speakers who were waiting for their turn at the front row.
Then she went into her story. Her harrowing and deeply disturbing story about growing up in an extremely abusive home in another region of the world and barely surviving the ordeal. Tears were streaming down her eyes and you could hear a pin drop as she gave the audience a vision, a snapshot of her life that I believe most in attendance couldn’t possibly imagine. Think of all the types of abuses a poor little human being can endure. She was it. Without realising, I had stopped making shots. My head was turned to her, even though my whole body and camera was positioned at the audience. I started to do that clever thing she managed to get the audience to do – temporarily live her life and image or even try to guess what we would do in a situation like that.
Oh, how incredible. How incredibly sad. You think as an event photographer you have seen it all, been there done that and know how to deal with situations. Little did I know I was getting emotionally involved in her story, showing complete admiration in her sharing her life with us and just captured (not photographically) and captivated by HER VOICE. This was the only time in my photography career, I can remember halting a shoot temporarily….. and I was ‘filling up’.
That was the sagacious thing Winnie had developed. A platform for women to tell their story, a platform to share their story, a platform to hear their voice.
What a powerful thing Winnie had created. One attendee commented that it was like being at a United Nations event. So many women originally from the different corners of the globe descended to this Her Voice event to hear each preplanned story by the speakers that were promoted for the event. Despite the fact that the speakers were from different backgrounds and up-bring, they all congregate to sympathise and even empathise with the stories being shared.
Every event photography assignment teaches you something. No matter how professional you are or think you are, when a story is being told that touches your heart, your very core – you stop and listen. I now understood what Winnie was trying to do and successfully as well. Get you the audience to not only comprehend what these speakers were saying but to image and live it temporarily. There are many women out there like the first speaker. They have all got their stories. Many unfortunately will never be heard. Winnie wanted to create this platform where those who would seize the chance, got up, owned the microphone and told their story so that we the audience could hear Her Voice.
Now as the official photographer for her events and with an understanding of Winnie’s goals, I am able to get the images and videos that Winnie needs to reach a wider audience than that which actually at the Her Voice event. Now, we are heading towards season four and the planning that is involved in this. Winnie and I work well together and have built a good solid friendship and working relationship. I know what Winnie wants and need from an event shoot. I know what to expect from one of her events.
Something as powerful and gripping as what Winnie Ojanga has constructed, i.e Her Voice event and community, will inevitable breed similar type events. Others will use this model, her brand and slightly amend the title but they cannot clone the atmosphere that Winnie brings to these events, the empathy that Winnie has and the trust that these speakers have with Winnie in order to share their stories. I have seen it first hand, how Winnie wins the trust of people and how through her own integrity, life and story she is able to provide a virtual and physical hug and support to these women. Effectively, here in der Schweiz, there is only one Winnie Ojanga and one Her Voice event. I suspect I will be telling more event stories in the future about Her Voice. The very nature of this means you never know the content of the next story and how that will affect the audience or even the event photographer.
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I suspect I will be telling more event stories in the future about Her Voice. The very nature of this means you never know the content of the next story and how that will affect the audience or even the event photographer.
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