“If you do not understand someone’s story, how would you understand someone’s pain?”
Since 2004, Jurgen Marx (Badenhorst), a photographer from Pretoria, South Africa, has been chronicling people’s emotions during Rotary Family Health Days in order to create a conversation about the importance of health.
“I grew up in South Africa and have always known about the organization,” Jurgen says. “When I was a kid, I would always see people from Rotary outside a church or on the streets, distributing food and helping people, and I would always wonder who they were — and then, in 2004, I got an opportunity to work with them. Oh my God, I was in awe of the work that Rotary does!”
Blended together, creativity and empathy can work magic, even in the most difficult times. Jurgen’s idea of capturing a moment, or “freezing time,” as he describes it, is all about telling an impactful story. “Health is a human right,” he says. “No human should wake up in the morning, see their loved ones suffer and wonder how they’re going to look after them. Rotary reaches out to these people, bringing some hope to their lives.”
Always looking for those hopeful moments to capture, Jurgen believes that photographs have a powerful way of telling a story. “There is always a message behind every photo I click, a story, and I want people to feel that emotion when they look at my photographs. There is a reason behind the existence of every image.”
Storytelling through photography is not so different from that told through words; in fact, it can be more impactful, as visuals have the power to capture attention in an instant. Jurgen’s body of work includes working with the South African politician Mmusi Maimane on his campaign, sports photography, commercial campaigns, film and TV awards, and much more.
“When I became a part of the political campaign for Mmusi Maimane, my aim was to be the eyes of the people and help them share their stories, and I could do so through my photographs. There is so much suffering around us and, in developing countries like Africa, the situation for the underprivileged section has not changed much even after so many years of independence,” says Jurgen.
“During the campaign, I tried to capture whatever little hope I could see in the eyes of the people when Mmusi would talk to them, approach them. Being the floating eyes of the public was all I tried to do, and it was on one of these campaigns that Rotary saw my work.”
Trying to find a purpose behind every photo he takes, when Jurgen was hired to create content for Springboks, he wanted to capture photos of the athletes that spoke about them as human beings, as more than sportspeople. “I was mulling over how to do that and I decided to capture different emotions while they were training or sitting on the ground. Whenever I capture a photo, I ask, why am I here, what am I trying to say? What is the purpose?” he shares.
Getting Involved at Grassroot Level
“I remember the first time I worked for Rotary very clearly. We drove to this small town and the volunteers, nurses and doctors were running around, setting up the site, doing all the hard work. And I just stood there in the background with my camera, mesmerized, capturing them doing the groundwork.”
“I don’t know how to begin to describe what I felt when I saw mothers with their little kids, getting checked for HIV and receiving medicines. There was hope on their faces. I feel so grateful that I got the opportunity to walk these streets and capture these beautiful moments. Relating to someone’s pain without walking in their shoes is difficult.”
While Jurgen has taken a break from photography for now, he still spends a lot of time clicking candid photographs of his beautiful wife and three children. Talking fondly about his kids, he says he is busy now in providing for his family and giving them a future they have dreamed about. In the future, he would love to work yet again for the communities who need help.
“The reach of these programs run by Rotary is amazing. You need to understand a problem at grassroot levels to provide a solution. I have seen Sue and Ann Marie working tirelessly to help the people find hope from these communities,” he says.
Finding Joyful Moments
In the midst of despair and sadness, Jurgen finds moments of hope, love and joy, and hopes to communicate these stronger emotions through his photos. “The joy on the faces of the nurses is beyond measure. You’ll see an HIV-positive kid being all smiley and chirpy,” he says.
“These moments are so beautiful, and are made possible only because of the love that Rotary shows towards these people,” Jurgen finishes. “There is nothing more amazing than seeing a kid smile. They are more than their pain. and the world needs to see these moments of joy.”Share