In 2002, when my husband Chris and I decided to start the Travel Photographer of the Year competition, to show the world that this genre is about so much more than just pretty postcard snaps, there were many things I didn’t anticipate.
In the early days we only took entries in print form rather than online, and I didn’t anticipate receiving sacks and sacks of packages from all over the world. Or that some of those packages would be so securely wrapped that it could take me a good 15 minutes to open just one!
I didn’t anticipate becoming friends with photographers across the globe, or that our awards would have a huge impact on the careers of some of those photographers.
And I didn’t anticipate that, every year, I would go on a new visual journey through tens of thousands of images submitted from photographers in over 90 countries.
Some of the things I see on that journey are beautiful, or breathtaking. Some are amusing, quirky or fascinating. And others are deeply moving; with images of children in poverty amongst the most moving of all.
Sitting in a comfortable office in the Suffolk countryside while looking at a photograph of children working for a pittance in appalling conditions – or a family mourning the loss of a child through starvation, or children who walk 10 or 20km to school every day to get the education that is their sole chance to transform their lives – is profoundly disturbing.
Which is why I was so pleased and so honoured (as well as surprised!) to be invited to become a patron of Our Sansar. No, we can’t help everybody. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do something, and Our Sansar does a great deal more than just ‘something’. Programmes such as the Nepali Education Project and the Birgunj children’s home are transforming the lives of children in Nepal – and the lives of the adults they will become. Which, in turn, will benefit the next generation of Nepali children.
Of course, as an organiser of TPOTY I want to see lots of images submitted to the awards. But I hope, one day, that we receive less shots of children living with poverty. This is not because the images themselves can’t be award-winners (many such shots have won awards with us over the years) and it’s not because we don’t consider them important; because they are hugely important, and do a vital job by raising awareness. And I am certainly not suggesting that photographers should decide not to take, or decide not to submit, such photographs. My hope is that, eventually, the volume of these images falls because there are fewer children having to endure such deprivation. And the work of Our Sansar is helping to bring those numbers down.