From the Field

Life frames: Capturing humanity in a photograph

How do humanitarian photographers capture the humanity of the people they photograph? For World Humanitarian Day, hear from World Vision photographer Jon Warren about the story behind a photo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the role that love plays in his craft.

Written and photographed by World Vision photographer Jon Warren

Nikon D750 camera

28mm lens, 1/200th at f/1.4, 640 ISO

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Scratched in chalk on the wall of 13-year-old Kapinga’s home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the words, il n’ya pas de rose sans epines — “there is no rose without thorns.”

Kapinga’s life is full of thorns. Some of her classmates served as child soldiers in the same brutal conflict that killed her father. Her grandmother is struggling to raise her. There isn’t enough food or money for school fees. As many as seven times a day, about a mile from her home, Kapinga joins a long queue to scoop water out of a hole in the sand. She hoes in the garden and helps her grandmother cook. When she finally rests at night, the only thing between her and the hard ground is a plastic sheet and an old mosquito net.

And yet, Kapinga is more than a collection of sorrowful circumstances. In the midst of her struggles, she is starting to bloom. I see this and I want others to see it as well.

Light streams through holes in the tin roof and through cracks in the door, dramatically highlighting Kapinga in profile.

I raise my Nikon D750 camera.

There are a series of mental steps I go through whenever I photograph someone. I listen to their story. I consider the context — especially the light. I watch for memorable moments and emotion.

But my number one rule is that I only photograph people I love.

Kapinga is easy to love. She sings like an angel. She loves her grandmother and misses her father terribly. She is kind to her best friend, Vicky. And her smile. It’s a smile that brims with sadness. The smile of a girl who has seen too much too soon. A smile that comes and goes.

Through the thorns, I see a rose. So I click the shutter.

Read more testimonies from World Vision photographers in our Life Frames series.

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