Artistry and Advocacy: Using Photography to Raise Awareness

 
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If you scroll through the #Dressember hashtags, some stunning and empowering snapshots of our advocates quickly come up. Among the gems of advocates wearing dresses in blizzards, while fixing cars, sledding, wood cutting, and beyond, portraits from Gabriel Boucher’s photography featuring his wife quickly draw attention. Featuring a somber photo in a graveyard, a fierce expression behind bars, and beyond, their photo campaign not only created awareness but told a story.

Dressember Day 12: "Snow - a symbol of renewal, of fresh beginnings. Celebrating the hope that lies ahead for victims of human trafficking! There is a movement against these abominable practices and it’s just going to keep on growing!"

Dressember Day 12: "Snow - a symbol of renewal, of fresh beginnings. Celebrating the hope that lies ahead for victims of human trafficking! There is a movement against these abominable practices and it’s just going to keep on growing!"

Dressember Day 2: "Trafficked women don’t necessarily look like trafficked women; they come from all over the world, including Canada and the USA. Oftentimes they resolve to stay, because they are stuck, with nowhere else to go."

Dressember Day 2: "Trafficked women don’t necessarily look like trafficked women; they come from all over the world, including Canada and the USA. Oftentimes they resolve to stay, because they are stuck, with nowhere else to go."

The powerful portraits are due to the heart of the couple. Artistry and advocacy are one in the same for dynamic duo Gabriel Boucher and Rebecca Rowley. Gabriel and Rebecca, artists based in Québec took their campaign to the next level with powerful portraiture accompanying the research they did regarding the realities of sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery. Their joint involvement was spontaneous for Gabriel after Rebecca decided to join after being inspired by her mother’s involvement as well as some other friends. Gabriel shared how he was supportive but it wasn’t until a few days before December when he offered to take photos for her campaign while she was setting out her dresses.

Inspired by his wife’s commitment to the cause, Gabriel wanted to see where he could fit in the fight against human trafficking. He asked his wife, “What if I take photos for you? We can combine my photography with advocacy.

What may not sound like a grand commitment to the regular iPhone user was a pledge of artistic excellence for this couple. After deciding to commit to the photography element of the project, both model and photographer agreed to keep most of the photos outside, despite the elements, for the cohesion of the series. Their commitment averaged 30-40 minutes of photoshoot time for each photo with an estimated 60-80 hours of work for the project as a whole, an average of 15-20 hours a week. Rebecca and Gabriel laughed about how their Dressember project was essentially the commitment of a part-time job accompanying their busy lives and parenting three children.

Dressember day 24: "As we get ready to celebrate Christmas, we lift prayers of grace and freedom for all the women and children trafficked, as well as for those who traffick them. All need freedom, all need grace."

Dressember day 24: "As we get ready to celebrate Christmas, we lift prayers of grace and freedom for all the women and children trafficked, as well as for those who traffick them. All need freedom, all need grace."

Rebecca set out to fundraise $1,000 and her campaign generated doubled that. Their goal extended beyond dollar signs, Rebecca and Gabriel looked to make a change within their context.

My personal goal was to help the people from my local community and my Facebook community grow in awareness of human trafficking,” Rebecca said.

The family accomplished this with research on related statistics and dealt with a variety of issues under the umbrella of exploitation including sexual exploitation, related health issues victims experience, fair trade, child brides, child soldiers, and beyond. Each statistic, quote, and the post was accompanied with a portrait featuring Rebecca to convey each post.

Dressember day 14: "We so easily lose visibility of the value of a human being."

Dressember day 14: "We so easily lose visibility of the value of a human being."

That’s what art does, right? It bypasses your defense mechanisms,” Rebecca said.

Artistry braved the face of cold temperatures as shooting outdoors in December in Canada comes with subzero temperatures. Rebecca shared how she neared pneumonia for the cause and her husband’s fingers were freezing as he shot. For those in cold climates, Rebecca urges advocates to remember their “why.”

It’s just a few seconds of cold every day,” she said.
Dressember day 23: "The Inukshuk is a human-made stone landmark used by the First Nations, believed to serve as a point of reference or marker for travel routes. As we travel through life, one marker of our journey is unmistakable: human life is valuable therefore none should be a slave to another. The size of inukshuks often suggest that their building was a communal effort. So it is with human value: we must all work together to defend and protect it."

Dressember day 23: "The Inukshuk is a human-made stone landmark used by the First Nations, believed to serve as a point of reference or marker for travel routes. As we travel through life, one marker of our journey is unmistakable: human life is valuable therefore none should be a slave to another. The size of inukshuks often suggest that their building was a communal effort. So it is with human value: we must all work together to defend and protect it."

Gabriel and Rebecca are not only brilliant artists but present a savvy social media presence. Gabriel shared that for aspiring advocates, the power of hashtags, intentionally timed posting, and accurate content are key for a successful presence. Research went into each post to make sure their claims were grounded in truth. Their intentionality reaped the greatest reward: awareness.

For me, there was very little that compared to someone writing to me and saying ‘thank you so much, I didn’t know about that.’ Awareness is definitely the biggest take away,” Gabriel shared.
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You can view their entire collection of Dressember photos here.

If you're interested in viewing more of their gorgeous photographs, you can view their website below:

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About the Author

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Sara Kernan is a proud Alaskan that now calls Southern California home (while trying not to melt in the summer). She is finishing her undergrad program this year and looks forward to this opportunity with Dressember to be an advocate of social justice on a different level. Sara can usually be found either drinking coffee or finding a new hiking trail with her husband and going on new adventures.