Giving Back: Kevin Kubota’s Workshops With Purpose

Giving Back: Kevin Kubota’s Workshops With Purpose

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A couple of years ago, Oregon-based photographer, author and workshop leader Kevin Kubota, of Kubota Imaging Tools, started a workshop series called “Workshops With Purpose.” The goal was to take photographers to places of need and increase their photographic skills while they worked together to lend valuable assistance to local organizations.

The first workshop was held in Kenya in November 2013, where it provided services to Kijabe Hospital. The second workshop, which involved working with Food for the Hungry in Bolivia, was completed this past April.

Kubota and his friend and fellow photographer Benjamin Edwards had supported charitable projects for years with their photography. And they had come to understand specific nuances and challenges to working with and for people in third-world countries. Edwards’s time working with NGOs in these countries provided great depth to their experience base. Citing Edwards as a constant source of inspiration, Kubota remembers him saying, “I just feel like we’re being led to do this.”

It was Kubota who realized that hosting a workshop where they could show other photographers how to work in these challenging and often adverse situations would be powerful. “More important,” he says, “we would work for a charitable organization during the workshop, so the photographers would be learning on the job. It was a win-win for us, the photographers in attendance and the organization we assisted.”

The two had a mutual friend, Ann Mara, who had moved to Kenya with her surgeon husband and two children. They had left their successful businesses in Oregon to dedicate their lives to serving people in need at Kijabe Hospital. She was the marketing director for the hospital, so Kubota asked her if they needed photography and video to promote the charitable work they were doing. She replied with a resounding yes!

“Another mutual friend, Marianne Nicodem, a fantastic videographer with a heart as big as the moon, was passionate about the idea of leading a workshop like this and became part of our coaching team for the Kenya workshop,” says Kubota.

The Plan Comes Together

Kubota and Edwards pulled the first workshop together pretty quickly. Creative friends donated their time to design a logo and build a website/blog. They started a Facebook page. Using his existing social media reach to do this project the way they wanted required financial support beyond attendee fees. The solution: Kubota turned to his primary industry sponsor, White House Custom Colour, to see if they would be interested in supporting the project. “They embraced it and gave us tremendous support,” says Kubota.

They used e-mail, Facebook and e-newsletters from WHCC to get the word out. As they could only bring along eight photographers, the workshop was soon filled, with a waiting list. “It was exciting to see there are so many compassionate photographers out there waiting for someone to give them a little ‘push’ in the right direction,” says Kubota.

Of course, building those all-important relationships with towns and communities always goes most smoothly when you have a single point person you’ve worked with before.

“The amazing thing is if you start putting the word out as to what you want to do, people come out of the woodwork to help,” Kubota says. “After we connected with Ann in Kenya, she sold the idea of us coming to the hospital’s managers. They trusted her, so they trusted us. This same concept is true when visiting communities. If you came with a trusted person, you were let in. If you tried to waltz in yourself, they were often skeptical.”

One project under their belts, the team was ready to develop a second workshop. Putting the word out locally, they discovered that a woman Ben Edwards knew, Heidi Wright, had been involved with Food for the Hungry, an international charitable organization.

“Heidi told us that FH had projects all over the world and were always looking for help with their media,” says Kubota. “We decided that Bolivia would be our destination and she became our liaison, connecting us with people and managers on the ground to help organize our visit. They also provided a local employee to guide and translate for us, which was absolutely fantastic.”

During the workshops, Kubota photographs alongside attendees as they are given assignments by the organization. They break up into small teams and cover a variety of subject matter. He also photographs behind the scenes as the photographers work. “We spend some time each day in our ‘classroom,’ likely the dining area of our hostel, talking about workflow, lighting, working with NGOs, working with our subjects, etc.,” he explains. “The workshop runs 7–10 days, which includes extensive travel and a day of sightseeing to give us time to bond as a team before getting to work. It’s an essential part of a workshop’s success.”

Social media also has been key to the workshops’ success; it enables Kubota to tell the stories they’ve experienced and get other photographers excited about the prospect of joining a future project. His respected role within the photo industry, too, has created some unique communications opportunities. For example, “After our first WWP to Kenya, I was able to convince WPPI to give us a platform program to discuss the experience,” Kubota says. “I invited all the workshop attendees to come to Vegas and be on stage with me to share their unique stories. I don’t think anything like that had been done before.”

Workshop Impacts

The positive effects of these projects are felt by the organizations, the communities involved, the participants, and the planners themselves.

The organizations helped by the workshops’ team were already doing amazing work. To continue their work and to grow requires funding and exposure. “To acquire funding, they need compelling professional imagery that will move people to action,” says Kubota. “The workshop images and video have allowed them to raise the bar in the marketing and fund-raising materials they produce, gathering larger donations and broader exposure for potential assistance. Kijabe Hospital, for example, also needs to attract more volunteer doctors, nurses and support staff. Compelling imagery of the work they do has been key to attracting new volunteers.”

WWP’s work has had a clear impact in the communities themselves. The people Kubota and Edwards chatted with and photographed were so grateful someone wanted to tell their stories. “They seemed so hopeful and thankful that we simply cared enough to come across the world to hear and photograph them,” says Kubota. “Sometimes giving hope is the best thing you can do. Of course, we want to feel like we left behind more than just hope, but the common bonds we find between people of such disparate backgrounds is powerful and healing in itself.”

The effects on Kubota are many. As he explains, “I love Workshops With Purpose because it is exponentially larger than myself. I can help to motivate and train scores of other photographers to help change the world. I’ve been a professional photographer for about 25 years, and I feel the best gift my years of experience have given me is the ability to teach and motivate other photographers to follow their hearts. It’s like all those years I was training for this.

“I brought my 13-year-old, Nikko, and Benjamin brought his son, Parker, to Bolivia. Heidi Wright’s 13-year-old son, Fraser, also joined us in Bolivia. They wanted to learn, photograph and help in every way the others did. It was amazing to see them fit right in, get excited, get sad and get motivated to change the world—each in their own way. It was one of the highlights of my life to share that experience with my son and see the passion for helping people glowing in his eyes.”

For more information on Kevin Kubota’s Workshops With Purpose and other projects, visit kubotaimagetools.com. To view his photography, go to kevinkubota.com. For more on Benjamin Edwards, visit benjaminedwardsphotography.com.

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