Believe it or not, Instagram is officially 10 years old! The increasingly important social media platform launched for iOS on 06 October 2010 (with an Android version following in April 2012).
Beyond the world of 'casual' social media, Instagram has become one of the most significant pieces of the puzzle for photographers, acting as a de facto portfolio for amateurs, professionals and imagines businesses alike.
While many shooters are content to simply put out a few posts a week, when properly leveraged it can be an incredibly powerful tool for change – as evidenced by the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, Muhammed Muheisen.
In addition to being a National Geographic photographer, Muheisen is the founder of Everyday Refugees – a Dutch non-profit organization. A Canon Ambassador who shoots with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (opens in new tab) and Mark III, he is perhaps best known for his 2017 UNICEF Photo of the Year depicting Syrian refugee Zahra Mahmoud,
Muheisen shared his thoughts on Instagram, how it has helped his career and non-profit, and offered advice on how other photographers should use it…
As a photographer, how has Instagram helped your career and Everyday Refugees Foundation in the last ten years?
I’ve been a professional photographer since 2000 and have documented almost every major event in the world since. In 2014, I created my own Instagram account, @mmuheisen (opens in new tab), without any expectations – but within a few months I had almost 100,000 followers. That is when it hit me how important the platform is. In a second, I could share exactly what I was seeing straight from the scene to people’s screens. From that moment I knew that I wanted to use my platform to make a difference.
Using @EverydayRefugees (opens in new tab) I started sharing pictures of what was happening around me during the refugee crisis. Using Canon’s 5D series I could be discreet, helping to capture the events raw and authentically, and within seconds I could then send my pictures to thousands of people. This inspired me to establish the Everyday Refugees Foundation in 2015. People started to react. We then started getting donations. People wanted to volunteer and big companies asked how to help.
Since then, we have helped thousands of people around the world – through photography, because they’re not just pictures – it's stories, it's voices, it's testimonies. It’s how we connect everyone together.
How do you use Instagram to promote Everyday Refugees Foundation?
Instagram is the main platform we use to inform the world about what’s happening around us. We share untold stories that show the challenges, hopes and resilience refugees face in everyday life. We do this by sharing a picture a day – that’s seven untold stories in a week and thirty in a month. We have a big focus on consistency. By continually sharing these new photos and accounts with the world, we can continue to raise awareness and drive change. For us, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
Every photo we share on @EverydayRefugees is a picture with oral or written permission to both capture and publish it. All information we share is accurate and credible and most of the shots are taken by me – unless we have a takeover by another photographer. To make Instagram work for you, integrity, credibility, authenticity and respect are crucial.
What do you think has contributed to the success of Everyday Refugees Foundation on Instagram?
As a photographer I embraced the challenge of social media – it was unavoidable, but as I wanted to make a difference when using it this encouraged me to think outside the box. No longer was I only communicating with those in the industry, but I could open my photography up to everyone – the teacher, the student, the actress and the politician. I adapted to ensure I could communicate the stories my photography told with everybody, at every level of society. But social media moves incredibly fast, like a train, so to remain creative and relevant you have to be onboard, otherwise you spend your life trying to catch up.
What advice do you have for photographers just starting to share their work on Instagram?
Social media is your connection to the world outside of your usual circles. It is your portfolio where you can share your passion and talent to a global audience. As with anything, you need to invest in it, feed it, let it challenge you to get outside of your comfort zone and explore new horizons.
In the last ten years, social media has developed a new visual language that the whole world can speak, thanks to photography and the power of imagery. This universal language has made it possible to make a real difference to the world we live in. It’s brought to the forefront challenges people face and we’ve been able to come together as a global community to figure out the solution, changing the lives of thousands of people across the world.
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