Sarah Annay Williamson: A Woman With a Vision For Empowerment.
Sarah Annay Williamson, 23, a professional wedding and portrait photographer, after spending time in Thailand, told herself the next time she traveled, it would be with a purpose. She discovered that purpose when she met Sarah Symons, founder of Made By Survivors, a St. Augustine, Fla. based nonprofit that supports victims of sex trafficking, working with women long term, providing counseling, education, shelter, and job opportunities.
Williamson designed a 4-week photography workshop, where she will teach 10 young women how to shoot, edit and print digital photographs. “We will focus on camera basics, portraits that empower (as many of these women have a severe disconnect with their bodies after experiencing severe abuse) and street photography.” said Williamson. Her goal is to provide visual communication and storytelling skills to these young women and provide them with an introduction into the photography business. She is currently raising $8,500 to support this project!
We interviewed Sarah, and asked what her advice is to women:
1. How did you come to be interested in photography and become a photographer?
I have been a photographer since I was in middle school, mostly because my parents didn’t take many photos. I was the documentarian in my family and the scrapbooking queen. This continued into high school, shooting for the drama department and theater. When I moved from Vermont to Florida to start at Flagler College, my passion turned into a business. “Wow, I can make money doing this!?” I thought at 19 years old. I studied journalism at Flagler, became the editor of the school paper and won numerous awards for photography from Society of Professional Journalists. My love for storytelling and editorial photography hasn’t changed—it’s only transformed. I have taken the skills I learned as a journalist and now use them to document weddings as well. Any time I have a camera in hand and am working with link-minded individuals, I am extremely satisfied, no matter what I am shooting.
2. Are there any women who inspire you?
Mary Ellen Mark is a huge inspiration. She’s an American photojournalist and commercial photographer. I was drawn to her work years ago, after seeing a photo story called WARD 81. Mary spent almost two months living in a women’s psych ward and documented their daily lives. I have always felt compassion toward people with mental illness. My mom is a social worker, so I spent my childhood around those with severe depression and schizophrenia. They are so often misunderstood and disregarded as human beings, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, when Mary shot these photographs. She represented these women with both honesty and respect. I hope to someday have a body of work that represents a population of people that are ignored and misunderstood. Check out her work, if you have chance. It’s raw and it’s beautiful.
3. How do you hope to affect these women’s lives.
I will be providing these young women with new skills, which is extremely important in their situation. Many of them just started school for the first time. The main cause of human trafficking is poverty and even though these women have been rescued, they cannot remain in shelters forever. Any technical skills and education will greatly impact their lives. They are not just survivors. They’re jewelers. They’re powerful women. They’re students. They are bilingual. They are educated. They’re photographers. They will, after this workshop, be able to contribute to the digital and visual world. These skills are important globally. Second, and perhaps most importantly, I will be providing them with the ability to share their own visual narrative. To let them create their history—not the media and humanitarian photographers who often swarm India’s streets and brothels. I want to inspire them to pick up their camera and share their story, whether it is of pain, resilience or freedom. I was given a camera at 11 years old and my story began then. They deserve this same opportunity and I hope to share this with them. The camera is an extremely powerful tool.
4. What sort of things inspire and empower you?
I am inspired by people who don’t take the easy road and who devote their lives (or maybe even a few years, days or hours—it doesn’t matter!) to something outside of themselves. I am inspired by my mother, who has been doing this her entire working life. I am inspired by extremely intelligent and selfless people such as Paul Farmer and lesser known, Sarah Symons, who started Made By Survivors and has given up the comfortable life in order to start a nonprofit and educate hundreds of women.
5. What life advice do you have for other women?
These questions always catch me off guard. Have I lived long enough to offer sound advice to women? I’m not sure. I do know that when you say you are going to do something, you should do it. When you tell yourself you’re going to accomplish something, you should hold yourself to the same standards. I’ve struggled with this in my life. It is easy to break the promises we make to ourselves. So try not to. Don’t fill your mind with unreachable dreams—instead fill them with over-the-top, accomplishable ones. And just go for it.
You can donate to Sarah and Made By Survivor’s Vision for Empowerment Project here: