As a commercial photographer with an interest in social change, Burk Jackson realized that many non-profit organizations lacked access to the photographers and creative professionals that would be best suited to tell their stories. In 2010 he left the for-profit photo world and founded CreativeCares – a new kind of creative agency that matches creative professionals with the non-profits that can most benefit from their skills. One of Burk’s early projects for CreativeCares was a photo series shot in part with Lensbaby lenses in Tanzania.

CreativeCares has since been named the Best New Nonprofit in Oregon and Burk’s non-profit work was featured in The American Society of Media Photographers “Best of 2010.”

What is CreativeCares?

CreativeCares is a non-profit organization whose mission is to create a bridge between media-makers and organizations doing social good. CreativeCares provides access and funding to the creative community to support their work with non-profit organizations seeking social change.

Why did you choose to work in Tanzania?

I went there to work with two different NGOs, one out of Ireland called Disability Aid Abroad and another, Solar Hope, based in Portland. Initially the trip was planned around Disability Aid Abroad and the Mehayo Centre for Disabled Youth in Morogoro, Tanzania. DAA supports the center, covering the cost of treating their 46 residents. When the founder of DAA told me about the center and its challenges, I knew CreativeCares could help them tell their story. I spent two weeks living there with the children and documenting their lives. It was beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

Solar Hope, the second non-profit, is doing a series of solar panel installations throughout Tanzania. They asked me to visit a Masai village to show their donors the people they are supporting with their efforts. This village was relatively remote and completely off the grid. Mobile phones have recently become accessible and are a great help to the people living there, but they have to hire a motorbike driver to take their phones into town to be re-charged, which costs a lot and takes a long time. I went there to document their lives and how phones have become an integral part of their experience.

How did Lensbaby lenses influence your photography?

I found that the thoughtful nature of working with a Lensbaby caused me to slow down and carefully consider the shots I was taking. Because of the focus and barrel manipulation, it created a sense of time and intentionality that isn’t present with an auto-focus lens. The lens had a deliberate influence on my ability to tell a story. The opportunity to elaborate on that story through the enhancement of that tool was important to how the story is told.

What was your experience at a photographer in Tanzania like? Who were you photographing?

It was amazing…

The first place I was, I was there working with disabled children that lived in a large center, 46 residents, that had previously had photos taken of them but generally by volunteers that were there to do other things, not a professional photographer.

It took a week for them to get accustomed to seeing me there, spending my days sitting with them while they live their lives. After the novelty of the American with the camera wore off, I was able to get much more intimate with them and how they live on a daily basis.

The second destination was a Masai village called Changlilikwa, near Usambara Mountain. The village is 12Km into the African bush. They had no electricity, plumbing, or other amenities. Some children there had only seen one other non-African person in their lives so I was a spectacle when I arrived. After my intention was explained, they warmed up to me and wanted me to take pictures of what was valuable to them. Whether it was a newborn baby or the prize bull, the interesting part was seeing how important it was to them that these moments are captured for posterity, even by a foreigner…I plan on bringing back a series of images to give to them on my next trip to Africa, which I think is incredibly important because I was entrusted with the privilege to capture these moments. The second morning I was there, a calf was born in the herd of cows and it was named after me, which may sound silly, but was an incredible honor considering cattle are the most valuable and prestigious thing they own.

Find more creative inspiration! Lovely child portrais from Rachel Devine, fine art photography by Fritz Liedtke, along with curatorial and career advice from Laura Brunow Miner are all available on the Lensbaby Blog.