Nonprofit executives are using photography to connect with community

Katy Smith
Columbus CEO
Local nonprofit leaders, from left: Karen Mozenter, Jewish Family Services; Chuck Gehring, LifeCare Alliance; Seleshi Asfaw, Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services; Denise Robinson, Alvis; Nicol Ghazi, Muslim Family Services; Michael Corey, Human Service Chamber; Vicki Bowen Hughes, Social Ventures; Elizabeth Martinez, Big Brothers Big Sisters; Cory Paul, Red Cross; Shon Burch, Resident Resources Network; and Ryan Burgess, Goodwill Columbus.

Journalists have a term for the everyday voices in our stories: “real people,” or RPs. They’re people we hope readers can relate to—they’re not “officials,” or talking heads, or studies that draw conclusions about real people, who we seldom meet in the studies.

We consider it especially important to include RPs in stories about community need—hunger, homelessness, addiction, evictions. They help readers connect with their neighbors, with their family members, who are facing major obstacles, instead of imagining it's “other people,” in other communities, affected by those issues.

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The same could be said of the people who run our social services organizations. They are chief executives who get paid what some would say is a lot of money (though it’s a pittance compared with their private-sector counterparts) to guide organizations that help people in times of great need. Readers and the general public might imagine them as suits at the top. But they, too, are people, and on the balance, they’re engaged in the work with their whole hearts. They’re mission-driven. When clients are in pain, they feel that pain.

Getting to know the RPs who serve as our Columbus nonprofit executives is the mission of a project by photographer Tariq Tarey and Micheal Corey, executive director of the Human Service Chamber of Franklin County. They’ve set out to capture portraits of some 136 local executive directors and CEOs, and the results so far are powerful.

At first, the idea was simply to create consistent, high-quality photos of local nonprofit executives for the Human Service Chamber’s website and marketing materials, Corey says.

“Then Tariq had the masterstroke of thinking about how we can tell the story of the humanity of these nonprofit CEOs, 19 months into the pandemic and counting,” Corey says.

Tarey, a well-regarded creative and video producer who calls himself a visual ethnographer, is himself a member of the nonprofit community as director of refugee services at Jewish Family Services. As of Oct. 21, he’d spent three Fridays taking photos of for the project, making for each executive a traditional headshot, a full body image, and a photo of them wearing a mask.

“Nonprofits do such an amazing work,” Tarey says. “But they never shine—their websites, their CEOs’ photos—they’re not into marketing, they help humans, right? So I always wanted to lend a hand, and the small talent that I have is to give people the proper [professional-looking marketing materials].”

Tarey and Corey could see the project becoming something much more than marketing materials.

“In the aggregate, they tell a really interesting, and I think powerful story about these very  diverse leaders who are doing very diverse work,” Corey says. “Just seeing how our CEOs are expressing themselves right now and how they look after 19 months of what has been a traumatic stretch in their lives, in our communities, in our country’s life, is just a beautiful illustration of what I think is the best of who we are.”

ksmith@dispatch.com