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SoHo, Manhattan, NYC

We are excited to announce our new partnership with Nuru Project, an organization that prints top-notch documentary photography to benefit highly effective nonprofit organizations around the world. Not only are the images astounding and eye-opening, but the proceeds from their sale effects change in the communities they depict.  Nuru Project shares revenue with both non-profits and photojournalists. $175 of every print sold on Artsicle's site benefits the assigned Nuru Project non-profit partner and another $175 supports the photojournalist.  We are very excited to announce Nuru Project as a non-profit partner, and to offer a limited selection of their images available for both sale and rental through Artsicle!

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“Nuru” means light in Swahili - the organization adopted the name because photography is a medium of light. Now Nuru is advancing the means and abilities of photography, allowing “journalistic” images to exist in a new context. It is a platform where photographs can function both as currency for social change and a piece of artwork in their own right.

We’re honored to join with Nuru and offer a new body of work to the Artsicle network. We spoke with JB Reed, co-founder and talented photojournalist, to find out a bit more about Nuru’s origins, ethics and plans for the future.

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Your website says that Omri Bloch came up with the idea for Nuru while backpacking across Asia and Africa. Can you give me a bit more information about Nuru’s beginnings and how you all came together?

In 2004, I had a Fulbright fellowship to Kenya to document the lives of a group of guys my age living in Nairobi’s Mathare Valley slums. Like a lot of photographers, I felt a responsibility to help the people who I'd photographed since they'd given me so much in terms of time, access, and friendship. So when I finished my project in Nairobi, I created a gallery show in Boston and the proceeds of my print sales went to a nonprofit working in the community that I'd photographed. This would later become the model for Nuru Project’s live events. After the event, I was approached by Omri, who’d just returned from a trip of his own. He’d been brainstorming an organization that would use photojournalism to support sustainable development abroad. He heard about my event and approached me and together with Chris McAleenan, Matt Watson, and Daniel Murray, we founded Nuru Project.

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The nonprofits that you have partnered with are highly respected. How do you select these particular organizations?

The first important non-profit partnership we formed was with Acumen Fund. Acumen Fund invests in social enterprises that provide critical goods and services to low income communities in South Asia and East Africa. In 2009, we partnered with their New York volunteer chapter, NY+acumen, to create an event called DIGNITY. We sold prints from countries where Acumen invests that conveyed the dignity of people living at the bottom of the economic pyramid, the customers of companies in which Acumen invests. Since then, we’ve created 11 more DIGNITY events in partnership with +acumen chapters in SF, Chicago, Toronto, DC, Dubai, Karachi, London, Vancouver, and Boston, raising nearly $150,000 for Acumen. When we launched our website last year, we asked Acumen to recommend peer organizations and they led us to many of our other partners, including Architecture for Humanity, Pencils of Promise, Malaria No More and Millennium Promise. All of our non-profit partners are innovative and efficient. We use everything from personal recommendations to services like Charity Navigator to ensure our partners comply with the highest non-profit standards.

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How many photographers are you currently working with? How do you find these photographers? Are there certain guidelines that you abide by when curating for Nuru?

We are currently working with more than 50 photojournalists whom we find in a variety of places, including on other photo blogs, on agency sites, photo contest websites, in news magazines, etc. I get a lot of help in this area from Matt Watson, one of Nuru Project’s co-founders who is also a painter, and from photojournalist Andrew Burton, who helps us out quite a bit at Nuru Project.

Nuru sells open edition prints, but a handwritten note describing the circumstance in which the photograph was taken accompanies each photograph. So on one hand, the purchase is very personalized but on the other the photograph is accessible to most people. Can you talk about both of these practices – the open-edition prints as well as the hand-written note? Is uniqueness a quality that Nuru is striving for?

Too often when photojournalism prints come out of news magazine and into frames, they lose their context. But we feel strongly that our prints are stories and that it’s important to share both their visual and written aspects. We ask our photographers to write their handwritten notes in first person, as if they were relating an experience they’d just had to a fellow photojournalist over beers. Even though these are ‘documentary’ images, it’s important to remember that human beings created them. While photojournalism is often criticized for this reason, we acknowledge and celebrate that very subjectivity by including the photographer’s actual handwriting.

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I’m a big fan of Jen Bekman and her push at 20x200 to open up art to more people by radically increasing edition sizes. We take it a step further by doing away with limited editioning altogether. We believe the true spirit of photojournalism is to tell a story far and wide to an audience passionate about social change. We celebrate volume. The more copies a print sells, the more impact it has on a cause. We pair volume with moderate prices, allowing us to reach a wide audience and raise more money for causes.  For us, volume = impact.

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What has the public reception been like since your launch? Does your following spring mainly from the United States or has the word spread abroad?

We’ve had a great response. We’ve already sold more than $25,000 in prints online to people all over the US as well as Europe, South America, and Asia. It feels like the majority of our new Facebook fans are abroad, so we’re working on ways to better connect with overseas audiences. When you include print sales at our events prior to our website launch last October, we’ve raised nearly $200,000 for non-profits.

Nuru Project benefits many communities in Asia, Africa and Central America. Have you considered partnering with an organization that benefits communities in the United States?

This is a good question and one we get all the time. The answer is: absolutely. Our first prints from the US are from photographer Justin Maxon and our most recent non-profit partner addition is Kiva, which is now lending to communities in the US. We plan to add more prints from the US and more non-profit partners serving communities in the US in the near future.

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Photojournalists are often criticized for witnessing critical, life-threatening issues without attempting to help. Do you see Nuru as a way to change that dynamic? Do you think this virtue attracts particular photographers?

We started Nuru Project as a way to help photojournalists give back to communities where they’ve photographed. Our hunch was that most photojournalists get into this profession because they perceive injustice in the world and that they will want to do more than just document it given the chance. Most of the photojournalists we approach are eager to work with us and we often get notes from them thanking us for the spirit of our work. Photojournalists and non-profits are natural allies when you think about it: photojournalists document the issues that non-profits address. In my opinion, photojournalists are human beings too and we bring our complex humanity to our work. That includes our subjectivity and our compassion. We care deeply about the issues we cover. As the old industry ethic that a photojournalist’s objectivity is paramount and that she should not engage her subjects evolves, more initiatives like Nuru Project are springing up.

Interview by Waverly Mandel for Artsicle.




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