Accelerating the Social Impact of Visual Storytelling

A picture is worth a thousand windows. The word window is not a typo; it is intentionally used as a placeholder for the endless opportunities to dig deeper into spaces that are often evident, yet overlooked.

CatchLight exists to accelerate the social impact of visual storytelling. We act as an incubator for the best of a new breed of storyteller, surrounding them with resources, networks, and leadership support to amplify their stories. We believe there has never been a better time to use the power of photography and the connectivity of storytelling to bind our world together with empathy and compassion.

In 2008 on a photo shoot with the International Rescue Committee at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, I was awed by the efficiency, dignity, and compassion pervading the work around me. While I could not build latrines, or feed thousands, I could play a vital role in accelerating the means through which photography was used to amplify stories.

I created The PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Award to reward excellence in photography linked to social agencies, anywhere in the world. After five years we received submissions from eighty-two countries on behalf of hundreds of organizations, advocating for every issue under the sun.

Fast forward to 2017 and the photo industry has turned over many times. The basic value chain through which visual journalists connect to audiences has long broken, and if we think of philanthropy as society’s risk capital, there is a valuable place to explore gaps that our economic and social markets have yet to see – understanding how to link the ubiquity of photography tools, social media, and the social good.

CatchLight recognizes the very real fact that social issues are challenging and we need art to sort through the visual clutter and fight the oversimplification of the nuanced world around us. Our mission is expressed through a series of programs, fellowships, and exhibitions. We seek partnerships that enable us to reach new audiences and nurture innovative forms of distribution. We are successful if we tap into new audiences and they walk away thinking, “wow, I’ve never thought about it that way before.”

The CatchLight Fellowship recognizes three individuals who demonstrate artistic excellence, a social focus, and creative leadership potential. We provide resources to amplify their capacities and to reach new audiences. Partnerships are vital to this work, and they include The Pulitzer Center, The Center for Investigative Reporting | REVEAL, and The Marshall Project.

The Everyday BayArea is a curated Instagram feed that uses new media tools to see and understand our community across identities, demographics, and geographies, encouraging a wide variety of fresh photography perspectives to expose the depth and breadth of people living their version of the California Dream. Our partners are CalMatters and KQED.

Vital to our mission is live engagement, so in 2018 we’ll roll out a series of exhibitions, media, and public dialogue, using the window of the image to connect around social issues and identity.

We are at a moment of profound challenge and opportunity, and I think of Teddy Roosevelt’s call to recognize people who “get in the arena” and take up the enormous challenges of our time. That’s what we do at CatchLight; we amplify the capacity of people with great courage, talent, and integrity who take up the great social challenges of our time.

I am inspired every day.

Nancy Richards Farese is a member of The Philanthropy Workshop and Founder and Executive Director of

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