We all want to change the world, and there are people that do change the world: David Elliot Cohen, the editor for the famed “A Day in the Life of…” series, pondered about that statement a few years ago and did something about it. The result is the book “What Matters.” He hopes to inspire readers to make positive changes to the problems facing us today. Using the language of modern time – the photo essays – the book is divided into 4 major subjects with multiple chapters in each section: Man vs. Earth, Man vs. Man, The Distribution of Wealth, and Man vs. Disease. Each chapter is a photo essay with works by a photographer and a writer. Not an easy book to read. The images and the words taut and haunt you. The suffering, the devastation, the crying of human and of the Earth. What can we do? What can anyone do in the face of all these problems and injustice?
Stanford’s Aurora Forum hosted a talk by David, Ed Kashi and Michael Watts. Ed is a National Geographic photographer and Michael is a professor at UC Berkeley. Their piece in the book is on “The Price of Our Oil Addiction – Scenes from the Niger River Delta.” Their experience so moved them that they published a book on the subject Curse of the Black Gold.
David Elliot Cohen, Ed Kashi, Michael Watts, and the evening’s host, Mark Gonnerman
David gave a brief talk on why he started the project with a running slideshow of all ~200 images in the background. Ed then spoke a little bit and showed a multimedia clip based on the work he and Michael did on the Niger Delta. Voiced by people from the Niger Delta, indeed those are powerful images: the boy carrying a dead goat, the random fires, the shanty towns. The Niger Delta riches benefit just a few people, while the rest suffer.
The audience asked some hard questions. Do images like these have the opposite effect of glamorizing the suffering? What can we do to help? The end of the book contains some suggestions. In the end, we must have hope, we must believe that positive changes are possible. The last chapter is on “What One Person Can Do – The Amazing Life of Abdul Satter Edhi.” Without any government and outside organization’s help, he single-handedly one of the largest and most successful health and welfare networks in Pakinstan, and in fact, in Asia.
What Matters, is available free online. However, I high recommend getting the hard copy of the book. There are changes we all need to make.