Photography, Powerful for Self-Expression and Social Change


Nowadays, it can feel like anyone with an iPhone can label themselves as a photographer. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are still those who swear by their DSLRs, and those who still love the simplicity and natural beauty of film.

Because the art of photography has become so accessible, more people can use it as an incredible, powerful tool for both self-expression and social change.

Whether you’re a hobby photographer or a professional, you can support meaningful change in yourself and your community from behind your lens. Let’s take a closer look at just how powerful photography can be, and the major impact it continues to have on the world.


We’ve all heard the saying “a picture tells a thousand words.”

That’s largely the concept behind photovoice. It’s a research strategy that was originally developed in the 1990s, but in more recent years, has been used as a way for those in marginalized communities to document their environments and experiences. This typically includes people who are marginalized based on

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Class
  • Language
  • Immigration status

Not only are images powerful and educational, but they can spark change and influence policy. Young people involving themselves in this practice can also develop a stronger sense of community and leadership, eventually leading the charge themselves to inspire change within their communities. It emphasizes the uniqueness and originality of each underserved community and individual, and when it comes to making changes, it’s hard to ignore the impact of an image over words.

Making the World Seem Smaller

It’s easy to look at things like natural disasters or wars on the news and feel compassion, but it’s hard to connect when those issues seem so “far away.”

Photography is a tool that helps to bridge that gap. It serves as a portrait of humanity that can show us the struggles going on in our own backyards, as well as across the globe. For example, you might see a blazing wildfire engulfing a forest in Australia on television, but it likely won’t impact you the way seeing a burned, displaced koala would.

You might understand that poverty is an issue in this country, but until you see a photo of a young, starving child living 100 miles away, it won’t affect you as much.

Real-life imagery is powerful and can make the world seem smaller to inspire more positive changes. From a domestic standpoint, the kind of passion photography can spark helps to influence everything from political policies to personal beliefs. It can influence your local politicians to change their views on a neighborhood or inspire you to volunteer for a cause you never considered before because you’ve seen the impact with your own eyes.


Social Media

Photography is a wonderful art form, and it’s always been known to push limits. The idea of censorship in art, including photography, is nothing new. After all, art is meant to make people feel something, even if it causes discomfort. However, censorship has become increasingly problematic in recent years thanks to social media.

Likely, everyone you know regularly uses some type of social media platform. Unfortunately, each of these platforms has its own set of rules and “community standards,” and that includes potentially banning users for posting certain pictures, including images that feature

  • Genitals
  • Sexual intercourse
  • A “fully exposed buttocks”
  • Descriptions of sexual acts
  • Digitally created nudity

Even nude images that are shared with good intentions technically violate these standards, which has created a bit of an uproar in movements like #freethenipple.

This movement started several years ago to point out the double standard between men and women. No social media platform shuts down images of men with their shirts off but will censor topless women, or ban users who post those images. Obviously, that proves the point of the movement, since women posting photos of their “free nipples” are trying to show there’s no difference. Banning these photos or users can feel oppressive, and once again show the glaring public inequities women have to deal with regularly.

Unfortunately, photos of exposed nipples still aren’t allowed on most social media sites today. However, this movement (and others) have inspired many women to #freethenipple and fight back. This is another great example of how imagery can inspire change in individuals to the point where it becomes an unstoppable movement. Don’t look for this one to slow down.

Mental Health and Well-Being

We’ve covered a few ways in which photography can be used as a tool for social change, but it’s also such a wonderful platform for self-expression and self-care at any age.

One study found that photography can be particularly impactful when it comes to the healthy development of young people. This study discovered several major themes after giving 10 young individuals (ages 18-25) the task of capturing pictures that visualized their everyday experiences when it came to their mental health and well-being. Some of the themes that emerged included

  • Strategies to maintain their mental health
  • Depictions of their internal world in public
  • Representations of safety and “sanctuary”
  • Images expressing hope

As an adult, your well-being can benefit just as much from snapping photos as a form of self-expression. It’s a meaningful solo hobby that doesn’t just inspire creativity but can make it easier to reduce stress while self-managing your mental health. Whether you take photos casually or professionally, you have a responsibility to yourself and your community to be real, raw, and essentially unfiltered when it comes to every shot you take.

The more people who are willing to use photography as a tool, the more change will continue to happen at a faster rate across the globe. Whether you consider it a hobby that provides some rest and relaxation or you look at your camera as a sort of social weapon, it will be interesting to see how everything from the advancements in technology to the accessibility in photography will continue to shape the future for individuals and communities alike.

About the Writer

Miles Oliver is a growing writer working to expand his portfolio. He has learned a lot about creative best practices as a freelancer and hopes to write pieces that may be helpful to others in similar fields!





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