What I’ve Learned About Dignity Through My Camera Lens


“Like many things, I begin to understand dignity best when I notice it’s missing.”

By Stephanie Motz Skinner | Twitter: @stephmotz

Photography has taught me a lot about dignity. There is something powerful and manipulative about images–our lives are filled with them. When I first started photographing people, I began to understand that by composing the image and releasing the shutter, I was exerting control. I was defining a reality for whoever might see my picture. This realization was both exciting and frightening. If you’re looking to restore you old photos, then you can check out this Image Restoration Center here for more info!

When I moved to Uganda, I was confronted by so many harsh realities and I found them compelling and shocking at the same time. It’s easy to respond to a unique experience–I think we are wired that way–but I think the best photographs are the ones that bring out the best in people. I have discovered that there is a certain dignity that exists in the places where people must battle and endure, and this is what I strive to capture.

“So, like the camera strapped to my shoulder and the notepad tucked into my bag, I pin dignity to my heart so that I’m reminded to extend it to the people I photograph.”

Simply put, dignity is the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect. I think it’s something we are all entitled to, because we have been created in God’s image. Like many things, I begin to understand dignity best, when I notice it’s missing.

Everything about my work demands that I live out respect, and so I become more intentional about treating others with dignity. When I think of dignity as an interaction and an attitude, I imagine a Living Hope woman striding confidently, her face glowing in the sun. She smiles shyly into the camera while we photograph her, and her face speaks to us of strength and kindness. We encourage her, so that she feels comfortable. Through the process we remark on her natural beauty. We listen to her story and we pay attention. We try to discover who she is and what she likes and we try to find ways in which we can connect and make her smile.

We work with people whose lives have been defined by the rejection, humiliation, and pain they have experienced, so we try to give them a different experience. We want them to feel worthy and beautiful. We understand the privilege of our work and so we try to honour them. This is one of the great joys of our work.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. – Plato

When I get home after a long day of working “in the field,” I wash the sticky layer of dust and sweat from my face and I change out of my dirty clothes. Often, in that process, I put away my intentional approach of seeking dignity and I store it safely with the other tools of my profession. It’s in the most common interactions of my day-to-day life that I find myself forgetting to treat people as if they are worthy of honour and respect. Instead, I give into stress at work and explode when facing an obstacle, or I shake my fist in the air because of a negligent motorcycle taxi. I’ll sometimes stand in front of the mirror and subject myself to the indignity of self-loathing and harsh criticism.

I want to strive to live the credo of my work in every aspect of my life. It’s easy to treat people with dignity when I feel it’s required. But in reality, dignity is something we all need–no matter who we are–in order to flourish. It’s in the ordinary interactions of every day life that I have the chance to make someone feel noticed, appreciated and respected. I need to remember we all have our own mountain to climb and that every interaction has the potential to build a little courage or chip away at hope.

My dear SheLoves friends, I’d love to hear:

  • What does dignity look like to you?
  • What reminds you to treat others with dignity?
  • Where do you struggle with extending dignity?


About Stephanie:
I believe in the power of storytelling. I’m a photographer and writer for Fakeleft. Together with my husband, we love sharing stories of courage, of strength in the face of adversity, of triumph and hope. I truly believe that by partnering with others who want to bring change and justice to our world, we can actually make a difference.  I’m learning to walk in my nascent faith, but it’s not always easy. It’s an interesting journey.

I am currently living in Uganda, but my heart is everywhere. I’m a proud Latina from Choluteca, Honduras. I wish I had a Spanish accent. My favourite meal is dessert and my favourite sport is tanning. I blog at fakeleft.com/blog and tweet at @stephmotz