2021, a Year in Review: Small Changes with Big Impact

“A small change can make a big difference. You are the only one who can make our world a better place to inhabit. So, don’t be afraid to take a stand.”

- Ankita Singhal, Author

After another unpredictable year of negotiating obstacles, facing difficulties and sometimes learning to accept defeats, we highlight some of the little victories we have seen that have had resounding impacts on people’s lives.

Telling these stories highlights the incredible work of the charities and NGOs we work alongside. They are an antidote to the defeatism and apathy that are daily threats in a world where information flows like a relentless tide and the next set-back can often feel like it’s just around the corner.

Every individual life we touch is a success, every life changed for the better is a major achievement. Amongst vast statistics and global issues, it’s important to remember that every sweeping systemic change consists of thousands of smaller stages along the way. We continue to tell these important stories to remind us that everything we can do is worth doing and that small changes can have big impacts — sometimes far beyond our expectations…

Opportunity International — Roots of Change

Lisa Murray / Opportunity International / Arete. Chantal, 51, harvests Cassava Leaves on her farm in Kinshasa’s Kimwenza District.

Chantal is just one of thousands of women who have benefited from Opportunity International’s 3-year Roots of Change project. Roots of Change, which came to its conclusion in 2021, aimed to empower women in rural Ghana and DRC by improving their status in their communities, giving them access to modern farming techniques and resources, helping them to have more control over their assets and strengthening their leadership skills. The project exceeded its targets and trained more than 15,000 women, with over 12,000 opening savings accounts.

Lisa Murray / Opportunity International / Arete. Chantal, 51, harvests Aubergines on her farm in Kinshasa’s Kimwenza District.

“With this project, I’ve been able to pay for the school fees for my firstborn; she’s going on a trip to Cyprus soon to further her studies.”

Foundational skills and equipment have brought these small fruits of labour to Chantal, whose daughters have, in turn, been empowered to build their own skills and travel abroad — spreading the impacts of the project across generations. With access to education assured, the young women can build on their positions in their communities and further equip themselves to be the leaders of tomorrow.

FAO Project — Laasqoray

FAOSA / Arete / Isak Amin. Beneficiary Deeqa Osman’s son holds a lamb in Garabis village.

FAOSA / Arete / Isak Amin. Deeqa Osman, 40, mother of 8, in her home in Garabis village

The potentially devastating effects of drought have been softened for Deeqa and her son by integrated cash and precious agricultural training, supplies and activities from The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) who provide emergency support and training programmes for local communities in Somalia affected by drought.

“We thank God for this help as it is the only thing that enables us to buy everything we need… I am telling everyone who is in the programme to benefit from it and not to waste the opportunity. My plans for the future are to develop my farm with the money I receive and to work hard.”

- Deeqa Osman

FAOSO / Arete / Isak Amin. Goats stand in a field at a farm near Badhan, Somalia.

These milk storage containers were donated by the FAO. Very small, simple pieces of equipment, that can have a critical impact; allowing communities to store and distribute more goat milk when it is available, keeping thirst at bay through periods of drought.

Open Government Partnership

Launched by the UN in 2011, The Open Government Partnership now has a membership of 79 countries and a growing number of local governments, representing more than two billion people, along with thousands of civil society organisations. It promotes accountable, responsive, inclusive governance.

Carina Bruwer / Open Government Partnership / Arete. Zukiswa works on her computer at Rhodes University in South Africa.

At Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, Zukiswa works on a user-friendly online platform to house national and provincial budgetary information, expenditures, and learning resources for citizens.

Using technology to link governments and their citizens can help build bonds of trust and empower normal people to make informed democratic decisions and perhaps bring about political changes which could have wider national and international ramifications.

“The idea behind this online budget data portal, is that it’s supposed to be really accessible to anyone, even people who aren’t economists or budget analysts. It’s intended to have lots of resources for learning, videos in different languages — 5 different languages. It also allows those who are more budget analysts to be able to access that kind of data and access that information to do their own analysis of public finance information. So it’s a wide range of users that we’ve targeted, but at the centre of it, it’s to make all budgets open and accessible for anyone, anyone at all.”

– Zoliswa Kota, Public Service Accountability Monitor, Makhanda, Eastern Cape

Jhpieigo — Malawi

Karel Prinsloo / Jhpiego / Arete. Queen holds her backpack, standing in front of a small group of schoolchildren in Malawi.

Queen receives school supplies from Jhpiego. She dropped out of school due to pregnancy while in Standard 8 / Grade 10 to take care of her child. She lost hope of having a brighter future for herself and child until the DREAMS programme established a Go Girls Club in her community. Queen has now completed the primary and secondary package of DREAMS and is pursuing a career in nursing.

Jhpiego responds to the HIV epidemic with innovative ways of supporting vulnerable populations. Investing in one school bag for someone like Queen can go some way towards making them feel worth investing in, it can help to reignite their hope for a better life — driving them towards fantastic achievements like Queen’s. By following a path of education, self-improvement and career, Queen provides a role model for others in similar situations. Promoting education has a key role to play in increasing the uptake and availability of preventative tools and treatments and ensuring the cultural/social changes needed to tackle the epidemic long-term.


Clair Macdougall / EM2030 / Arete. Wendyam gives a presentation on gender sensitivity training.

Equal Measures 2030 is an independent civil society and private sector-led partnership that envisions a world where gender equality is achieved, every girl and woman counts and is counted.

EM2030 have provided opportunities for people like Wendyam Micheline Kaboré, Executive Director of Initiative Pananetugri pour le Bien-être de la Femme, to conduct gender sensitivity training with male NGO heads in Burkina Faso, who will in turn train their staff.

Training the heads of NGOs in gender sensitivity begins a chain of dispersion, whereby gender considerations begin to drip down and eventually touch all parts of society.

EM2030 are mapping and compiling data relevant to the education of girls and women in the unstable context of Burkina Faso — where violence has disproportionately affected women and education for women has come under attack. With data outputs they are undertaking advocacy with key stakeholders on the critical role of data driven advocacy in driving change on girls’ education.

In partnership with EM2030, Initiative Pananetugri pour la Bien-être de la Femme (IPBF) (the Pananetugri Initiative for the Well-being of Women) focuses on developing female leadership and empowerment, especially among young women and girls.


Oktavia Ika Rahman, a 27 year old female entrepreneur, poses for a photo next to her business’s poster at her home in North Jakarta, Indonesia.

Oktavia is a 27-year-old entrepreneur who sells homemade food from her home in Jakarta. She is just one of the hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries of the Youth Business International COVID Rapid Response and Recovery programme, funded by Google, which is supporting over 200,000 businesses in 32 countries. Thanks to YBI, Oktavita has been able to start selling food online. That way, she was able to work and take care of her children.

Arete / Yunaidi Joepoet / Youth Business International. Oktavia takes photos of her homemade food.

By providing the relatively small tools required to facilitate the transition of small businesses like Oktavia’s to the online space, the project softens the blow of the pandemic on the wider economy, also future-proofing businesses for the post COVID world, accelerating their modernisation and making them more competitive.

UNICEF — Somalia

UNICEF / Arete / Ismail Taxta. 9-year-old Hani holds up a learning aid in a classroom in Somalia.

Hani is one of the beneficiaries of a recent project by UNICEF and WFP, investing in the improvement of school facilities and the provision of school meals in the Banadir region. This project has been supported by a generous contribution from the German government, which has enabled UNICEF and WFP to provide safer, healthier schooling environments, more conducive to learning.

A healthy contribution from the German government makes a big difference and it’s important to remember the small instances where it is spent.

The ingredients for a safe, effective classroom environment are taken for granted by so many children around the world. They are incredibly simple, but equally, they are of vital importance. Access to simple resources can ensure education for the next generation in Somalia, and the students of today will grow up to be the decision-makers of tomorrow — equipping and empowering them could be the key to a hopeful future in the region.

Costa Foundation — Zambia

Arete / Karel Prinsloo / Costa Foundation. Eunice Chowa (18) in the dormitory at the Peas Kabuta Secondary School supported by the Costa foundation in Kabuta.

“My favourite teacher is Madame Musonda because she always encourages me to work hard so that I can achieve my goals. She teaches civic education. I also do computer training here, we all learn how to type… My dream for the future is to become an accountant, I want a nice house, and also to be a peace maker. I feel bad when I find people quarrelling about different things.”

- Eunice Chowa, Student at Peas Kabuta Secondary School, 18

The Costa foundation supports schools in coffee-growing communities in remote areas of Zambia — providing inclusive, accessible, quality education.

Arete / Karel Prinsloo / Costa Foundation. Pupils attend an ICT class at the Peas Kampinda Secondary School supported by the Costa Foundation in Kasama.

Computers hold boundless potential for students in the most remote places in the world, narrowing the obstacles of long-distance and national borders to open up a world of possibilities. Every computer can ignite an interest that could lead to a lifetime of success.

UWS Cambodia

WFP / Arete / Cesar Lopez. Chea, 10, goes to school near his home in Kompong Songkae village, Preah Vhear Province, Cambodia.

Most rural, ethnic-minority communities in Cambodia do not have access to the national education system as the national curriculum does not cater for minority languages. United World Schools works with local communities to provide access to an inclusive, accessible, quality education in children’s mother tongues.

The project begins to close the gap between minorities in isolated rural populations in Cambodia and those in urban areas. In the long term, it could contribute to altering the balance of society towards a system where a high-quality education isn’t reserved for people from certain places speaking certain languages.

For charities and NGOs, currently facing so many obstacles to their daily work, telling the stories of the little changes that make big differences to people’s lives has never been so important.

Our award-winning journalists, photographers and content specialists are eager to help you make a difference. Contact us to find out how we can tailor our expertise to meet your needs.

World AIDS DAY 2021: History by the headlines

A history of the headlines around HIV/AIDS since 1981

Photo: Quinn Mattingly/ Frontline AIDS/ Arete.

World Aids Day was first observed on December 1, 1988.

The intention was to bring greater awareness to HIV — the virus behind AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and honour all those affected by the killer disease.

This annual event has now become the longest-running disease awareness initiative in the history of public health.

Over its 34-year life span representations of HIV/AIDS and those suffering from it have morphed almost unrecognisably.

Since it first emerged, AIDs has been controversial — surrounded by scientific inaccuracy, social stigma and moral panic. This article tracks changes in public discourse in the west through a sample of headlines in the mainstream US and UK media from 1981 — when AIDS first appeared in US news reports — to the frenetic alarmism of the British tabloids in the mid-80s — to the emergence of some positive representation in the 90’s — through to the more global, factual, solutions journalism witnessed in the new millennium.

Photo: Kate Holt/ Jphiego/ Guardian/ Arete. Matwsie Serati who is HIV positive and taking ARV’s sits on her bed looking through photographs of her brothers and sisters who have died in Maseuru, Lesotho. Matwsie had five brothers and sisters who have died, three from TB and one from confirmed HIV who left four children behind. Lesotho has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world with twenty six percent of adults being HIV positive and nearly 5000 people dying last year from AIDs. Poverty, lack of education and alcohol abuse are contributing factors. Jhpiego is supporting many initiatives to combat this including project to encourage people to use PrEP.

This account highlights the progress made through the years while facing up to shameful misinformation and prejudice spread by the media. If we are to address the present and future of the global AIDS situation, we need to understand the nature of the narrative that has gone before.

As early as 1983 — even while the virus was far from understood — it was clear AIDS was a global issue. Studies had shown that the virus was present in Africa long before its emergence in the West and that it was largely transmitted through heterosexual sex. Despite this, for years narratives became dominated by homophobia, victim-blaming and racism.

There have been myths about its origins in bestiality, misinformation about transmission, even beliefs that AIDS is somehow God’s punishment for sin, and on top of that flat-out denialism!

Sufferers were turned into modern-day lepers.

As we move through this timeline, it is clear to see the progression in how stories around HIV/AIDS are reported.


2 Mysterious Diseases Killing Homosexuals

  • The Washington Post

‘It may be that both are piggybacking on the severe breakdown of the immune system in these men… But why only men? Why only homosexuals? And why in healthy men who had no apparent challenges to their immune systems?’


US Gay Blood Plague Kills Three in Britain

  • The Sun

April 1984

New U.S Report Names Virus That May Cause AIDS

  • The New York Times

‘…the finding led the American researchers to express the hope that a vaccine would be developed and ready for testing ‘in about two years.’

October 1984

AIDS Studies Hint Saliva May Transmit Infection

  • The New York Times

‘…researchers said in interviews yesterday that they are convinced the studies raise real public health concerns.’

January 1985

Britain Threatened by gay virus plague

  • The Mail on Sunday

February 1985

It’s spreading like wildfire.

  • The Sun

July 1985

Hudson has AIDS, spokesman says

  • The New York Times

[Actor Rock Hudson becomes first major public figure to announce he has AIDS — he died in October later that year]

‘Asked how the actor acquired the disease, which most frequently strikes homosexuals, intravenous drug users and recipients of blood transfusions, Miss. Collart said, ”He doesn’t have any idea now how he contracted AIDS. Nobody around him has AIDS.”’


“I’d shoot my son if he had AIDS”, says Vicar

– The Sun

‘…to make his point, the Rev Robert Simpson climbed a hill behind his church and aimed a shotgun at his 18-year-old son Chris.’


Don’t Die of Ignorance

[UK AIDS Awareness Campaign featuring actor John Hurt airs in cinemas and on television]

While still alarmist, this campaign is said to have been a turning point in acknowledging the fact that “anyone can get it”, rather than blaming the homosexual population.


[1st World AIDS Day to bring awareness to HIV, as well as to commemorate those affected by the disease]


Diana opens Landmark Aids Centre

  • BBC

‘The Princess of Wales has opened a new Aids centre in south-east London.

She gave director Jonathan Grimshaw — diagnosed HIV positive five years ago — a firm handshake before going inside the Landmark Centre in Tulse Hill for a private tour.

This was the first attempt to de-stigmatise the condition by a high-profile member of the Royal Family’


Ryan White dies of AIDS at 18; his struggle helped pierce myths

  • The New York Times

‘Ryan, a haemophiliac who contracted the virus through a blood transfusion, died of complications of AIDS… publicity helped pierce myths about AIDS, helping health experts and educators emphasise that it is not transmitted by casual contact, that it affects people from many walks of life and that although always fatal, the infection leaves many people able to continue normal lives for years.

Ryan White became a household name in 1985, when as a 14-year-old he began his successful fight to attend the public school in Kokomo that had banned him amid a clamor of fearful students and their parents.’


Basketball; Magic Johnson Ends His Career, Saying He Has AIDS Infection

  • The New York Times

‘Magic Johnson, one of the most popular and accomplished players in basketball history, said today that he had been infected by the virus that causes AIDS and that he would retire immediately from the Los Angeles Lakers…’

February 12, cover of Time


[Johnson made his announcement live on CNN, and specifically said he did not have AIDS, but had contracted the HIV virus — despite this the press still widely reported the former to be true. Notwithstanding, HIV now had a high-profile heterosexual African American spokesperson who would prove to do positive work to change perceptions about the virus. Two weeks later Freddie Mercury announced he had contracted the virus and the next day became the first high profile British figure to die from AIDS related illness]


Healthy, Gay, Guilt-Stricken: AIDS’ Toll on the Virus-Free

  • The New York Times

‘At age 40, Jaffe Cohen says he feels “older than everybody else.” After stalking his circle of friends for more than a decade, AIDS has snatched and killed dozens of his contemporaries and left him with such a backlog of grief that sometimes when he is listening to music or relaxing under a hot shower he startles himself by letting out a sob.’


[The Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) was established to advocate for global action on the epidemic and coordinate the response to HIV and AIDS across the UN]


Clinton Declares Crisis Among Minorities

  • USA Today

‘SWAT teams of public health experts, AIDS specialists, epidemiologists and other federal health officials will design and implement education, outreach and treatment programs in minority communities with a high incidence of HIV or AIDS. One third of the funding will go toward substance abuse programs and protease inhibitors while the remainder will go to developing new strategies for preventing the spread of AIDS.’


Drugs firms withdraw from Aids case

  • BBC

‘The world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies have backed out of a landmark court battle over cheap, non-branded anti-Aids drugs.

The 39 firms had brought legal action to fight legislation which would allow generic versions of their patented drugs being made in or imported to South Africa… However, the South African Government argued that it desperately needed cheap medication to help the 4.7 million South Africans infected with HIV or Aids.’


Flirting with Death: the UK’s First AIDS ‘Cluster’

  • The Independent

‘After 20 years of public-health campaigns about Aids, it seems that complacency is setting in. And nowhere more so than among heterosexuals, many of whom still believe that Aids is something that should concern gays, drug-users and Africans, but not them. They are wrong. In 1999, heterosexually acquired, new cases of HIV overtook homosexually acquired infection for the first time in the UK.’

June 2004

Bush Backs Condom Use to Prevent Spread of AIDS

– The New York Times

‘President Bush said on Wednesday for the first time that the United States should ”learn from the experience” of countries like Uganda in fighting AIDS and embraced the use of condoms to prevent its spread, a sensitive issue among conservative groups that have fought the adoption of any strategy that does not focus on abstinence.’

September 2004

Europe Unites for New Aids Battle

  • BBC

‘The conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, heard calls for European leaders to do more to fight Aids, described by one as “the silent plague of our times”.’


‘Out of Control: AIDS in Black America’

– abc news.

‘As the world marked the 25th anniversary of the first reported cases of AIDS this summer, one important story was mostly ignored: AIDS is an epidemic in the African American community and it’s spreading fast.’


Circumcision cuts by half the risk of Aids

  • The Times

‘Circumcising adult men may cut by half their risk of getting the HIV-Aids virus through heterosexual intercourse, the US Government announced yesterday as it concluded two studies in Africa testing the link.’


Britons may be more vulnerable to Aids due to Roman invasion

– The Telegraph

‘Researchers found that people who live in lands conquered by the Roman army have less protection against HIV than those in countries they never reached

They say a gene which helps make people less susceptible to HIV occurs in greater frequency in areas of Europe that the Roman Empire did not stretch to.’

September 2009

AIDS vaccine “important step” against disease

– Reuters

‘An experimental AIDS vaccine made from two failed products has protected people for the first time, reducing the rate of infection by about 30 percent, researchers said on Thursday.’

December 2009

Killer Syndrome: The Aids Denialists

– The Independent

‘In the first week of November, a record number of Aids denialists from 28 countries, including Britain, attended the Rethinking Aids conference in Oakland, California.’


Vatican shifts ground on condoms, HIV, conception

  • NBC news

‘In a seismic shift on one of the most profound — and profoundly contentious — Roman Catholic teachings, the Vatican said that condoms are the lesser of two evils when used to curb the spread of AIDS, even if their use prevents a pregnancy.’


World Aids Day: Victory is within reach, but cuts could spoil it all

  • The Independent

‘Just as Obama announces ‘the beginning of the end’ for Aids, funding is being slashed.’


End of AIDS a worthy legacy for Obama

  • USA Today

‘In his State of the Union Address, President Obama stated with confidence that the promise of an AIDS-free generation is within our reach. Scientists and HIV/AIDS experts agree…’

July 2014

Aids epidemic under control by 2030 ‘is possible’


‘There is a chance the Aids epidemic can be brought under control by 2030, according to a report by the United Nations Aids agency.’

July 2014

Decriminalise sex work to help control Aids pandemic, scientists demand

– The Guardian

Photo: Kate Holt/ Jphiego/ Guardian/ Arete. Makananelo Mochasane, who is a sex worker, walks along the side of the road at night to get customers in Maseuru Lesotho. Makananelo is HIV positive and taking ARV’s. Lesotho has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world with twenty six percent of adults being HIV positive. Jhpiego is supporting many initiatives to combat this including a project to encourage people to use PrEP.


Gay or Bisexual Black Men Have 50 Percent Risk of HIV

  • NBC News

‘The average American has just a 1 percent risk of ever being infected with the AIDS virus, but gay and bisexual black men have a 50 percent risk.’


HIV hairdresser Daryll Rowe handed life sentence

  • Sky News

‘Daryll Rowe faces life in jail for ‘deliberate campaign’ to infect men he met on the gay dating app Grindr.’


UK ‘on course’ to be HIV-free nation by 2030 — as rates fall to lowest level in two decades

  • The Sun

‘New diagnoses fell by just over a quarter from 6,721 in 2015 to 4,484 last year, Public Health England said.’


In This Pandemic, Personal Echoes of the AIDS Crisis

  • The New York Times

‘Are the parallels in the nature of the viruses, or just an old story about America that had never changed?’


Women Living with HIV share their stories

– Daily Mail

‘Women reveal what it’s REALLY like to live with HIV including missing out on having children and hiding it for years due to shame — but say they’re ‘left out of the narrative’ because it’s seen as a “gay man’s disease”’

Unravelling the history of the western media’s complex relationship with AIDS can be disturbing. But this World AIDS Day, UNAIDS is highlighting uncomfortable economic, social, cultural and legal inequalities which must be ended urgently if we are to end HIV transmissions by 2030.

This stark reminder of the social and cultural obstacles activism has already overcome, of the inequalities that led to the marginalisation of people affected by the virus, and clear evidence of how changed perceptions changed headlines offers hope. IF we keep telling stories in a thoughtful and positive way, we can effect real change in attitudes toward HIV/AIDS.

Photo: Quinn Mattingly/ Frontline AIDS/ Arete. A close-up shows a thank you note to Doan Thanh Tung (31), Lighthouse Executive Director, adorns a shelf at their clinic in Hanoi, Vietnam. Frontline AIDS, in partnership with the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF), has provided emergency COVID-19 grants to community-based organisations such as Lighthouse, a Vietnam-based community organisation that helps individuals most affected by HIV.

This article may have illustrated some progress around reporting and understanding of HIV/AIDS in some parts of the world. However, there is still some way to go in many other areas around the globe.

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World AIDS DAY 2021: History by the headlines was originally published in Arete Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Smartphone photography — Is a Smartphone all you need?

Smartphone photography — Is a Smartphone all you need?

Or is the humble DLSR still required?

As the well-used photographer aphorism goes: “The best camera is the one you have with you”. Yet, if you had a choice, is a smartphone all you need?

Photography is at the heart of every story we tell here at Arete. We tell stories with the intent to evoke emotion, to invoke action. Therefore how an image is perceived is paramount.

Without a doubt, the quality of the camera on the average smartphone has increased hugely in recent years; however, if you are a storyteller, be it an NGO, business or photojournalist, is there a time and place for smartphone photography or does the DSLR camera still reign supreme?

In this month’s Arete’s Stories, we broached this subject with two photographers who work in the field, Ishaq Ali Anis, and Anthony Upton:

Ishaq Ali Anis

Born in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan, Ishaq spent a number of years living as a refugee in Pakistan, before returning to Kabul in Afghanistan in 2012 to pursue higher education, enrolling at Kabul University to study photography.

Since graduation in 2016, Ishaq has worked with a variety of organisations as a photographer, such as the Afghanistan Photographers Association. Ishaq is an award-winning photographer, taking first prize in the Silk Road Photo Competition in Korea and Kazakhstan, and selected among the top 30 photos in the UNESCO Biennial Photos Competition and Photo Exhibition.

More recently, Ishaq documented his escape from Afghanistan to France following the Taliban takeover, which you can read in our From the Photographer blog here: https://aretegazette.com/2021/10/06/my-escape-from-kabul/

Ishaq, what do you tend to use for photography, a smartphone or a DSLR?

“The most recent story I documented was the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Whereas I would usually opt for my d600 NIKON DSLR camera, I chose to use only my smartphone on this occasion, as my camera is quite large and obvious.

Photo: Ishaq Ali Anis. Taken with a DSLR. Ziarat-e Sakhi is one of the landmarks of Kabul and every year, people on the first day of the year come together to celebrate the new year in this mosque. 2016 Kabul, Afghanistan

It was a very chaotic time in Afghanistan, and things were getting worse by the day. I wanted to capture the story, but I also feared for my life. In public, people in Afghanistan would not react well to a camera, so instead, I used my smartphone to take photos more discreetly.

For me, it was important this situation was recorded; I knew these photos would be a part of our history. Everything is changing.

I witnessed many journalists being targeted, and I heard many reports too. But, everyone has a smartphone these days, so I knew it wouldn’t create much suspicion if a young man is seen with a smartphone.

In Afghanistan, most people do not consider that someone with just a smartphone could be a photographer, so it helped me capture the story covertly.”

Photo: Ishaq Ali Anis. Taken with a DSLR. An old man working in the old Kabul City “Murad Khani” Kabul, Afghanistan 2015

So would you choose to use a smartphone in the future over a DSLR?

“To be honest, I do like using a smartphone. It is very easy and very handy, and because you are connected to the internet, once you take a photo, you can immediately start editing it, captioning it, and send it to the cloud.

When I was in Afghanistan, a lot of my friends were photographers for different agencies. They would often solely use smartphones, particularly for news. A DSLR doesn’t compare for immediate and urgent online news stories. You can send the photos or videos from the scene immediately. So I would say smartphone photography has improved journalism in this way.

Photo: Ishaq Ali Anis. Taken with a smartphone. Portrait of Mehrad, 2, an Afghan boy. Kabul, Afghanistan. 2020

However, what can be very disappointing, is lacking the versatility to take the different shots that a DSLR gives you. You can’t use a photo lens, which means you can’t zoom without using digital zoom and digital zoom destroys the quality.

It is important if I want to sell or exhibit my photos that they are captured in the best possible way. So for me, I like to use a mixture of both my smartphone and my DSLR camera, using each for the advantages they provide. A smartphone really doesn’t compare quality-wise. But it did allow me to at least capture something versus maybe nothing.

Photo: Ishaq Ali Anis. Taken with a smartphone. Children play in a back street in Hazara Town area in Quetta, Pakistan 2021

In the future, I hope for smartphones to improve in camera quality. It would be so useful and handy to be able to use something so small and discreet when documenting stories!”

Anthony Upton

Anthony has been an editorial photographer since 1990, starting in local papers and within a year graduating to British national newspapers, working for seven years at The Times of London before setting up a photo agency concentrating on sports marketing.

After seven successful years, Anthony returned to his editorial roots, freelancing for The Daily Telegraph and NGOs such as the UNICEF, TRUK and the British Red Cross, while maintaining a strong roster of corporate clients and thinktanks who require photos destined for publication in the media.

During this time, Anthony has volunteered as an Emergency Responder for the British Red Cross and worked in the logistics cell for UNWRA.

Can a good photographer make up for a poor quality camera?

“An experienced photographer brings so much more than their knowledge about how to use a camera to a photographic commission. For one, they’ll have a range of technical solutions to suit the different environments in which they work.

However, their greatest asset is their ability to see storytelling moments within each situation. Everybody is looking at the same event, and most won’t see what the photographer sees; it is the photographer’s job to distil from the multiple possible vignettes, the ones which convey the message to tell the story of the event.

Photo: Anthony Upton. General Views of the Cisco; Intel and Cohesity evening event in Barcelona.

Gone are the days when a photographer needed to capture everything in one photo, however even with online galleries, every photo needs to support the others and tell the viewer the story behind the photos — to explain the narrative.

Sometimes the photographer will welcome the greater creative options available with a dedicated camera, and sometimes the small size and immediacy of the smartphone will be the correct tool for the job.

It is part of the photographer’s pre-job planning to understand which will serve them better, alongside dealing with the logistical problems associated with the job.

And of course, the most important part of being a photographer is the ability to connect with the subject and treat them with dignity no matter the subject’s circumstances.”

And how about purely from a technical perspective?

“A DSLR Wide and Long Lens give creative options and low light capabilities that a smartphone simply cannot do. ISO agnostic sensors mean that more detail is available in both highlight and shadow areas of the image. This level of quality is what a professional is expected to provide.

There are further advantages to using a DSLR, such as using an off-camera flash rather than relying on low powered internal flashes.

Photo: Anthony Upton. The London Ballet Company performs ‘Poppy’ at the Bridewell Theatre in central London. The ballet commemorates the soldiers who fought in WW1 and the subsequent wars ahead of Remembrance Sunday.

The advanced sensors in a DSLR allow for better colour grading in post-production, which leads to photographs with huge file sizes when they are uploaded to a digital device, but an unrivalled level of detail and quality.

Using a viewfinder in bright light is far easier than a phone screen, and it provides three points of contact for greater stability.

What the smartphone lacks in technical prowess, it makes up for in discreetness. People see a smartphone as non-threatening as they are much more used to seeing them. In the analogue film days, we would carry a little point and shoot pocket camera to carry out this job. The smartphone has replaced this, so it will always have a place in the camera bag.”

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Smartphone photography — Is a Smartphone all you need? was originally published in Arete Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.