Photo by Lola Mendez
Danielle da Silva is a multi-lingual, multi-disciplinary artist and activist. Her art includes writing, photography, and filmmaking. She is a public speaker, the Founder and CEO of Photographers Without Borders (PWB), and Co-Founder of the Sumatran Wildlife Sanctuary. Danielle also serves on the board of the Dandelion Initiative, a grassroots organization run for and by trauma survivors. Although she tackles many different projects from many different angles, a single thread runs through all of her work: “communicating the extraordinary efforts of people around the world working to solve the most challenging problems.” She took some time out of her busy schedule to inspire us with this interview:
Kathryn: How would you describe your work as an artist/photographer and how that work intersects with your commitment to social activism?
Danielle: I would describe myself as a storyteller who focuses on issues of humanity and conservation using photography and documentary filmmaking (and soon-to-be cinematic filmmaking). I am most interested in documenting the ways that humans are making a positive difference at the grassroots level because that is where sustainable change occurs. By sharing these ideas and visions, I hope to spark ideas in other corners of the world.
Kathryn: What have been some of the highlights of your work as a photographer?
Danielle: I am honored and humbled to have the chance to meet so many everyday heroes in my life and career, and to make a difference with what I do. My work in Sumatra establishing a wildlife sanctuary, and working with Sambhali Trust in India are highlights for me.
Kathryn: You founded Photographers Without Borders Canada in 2009. How has it changed/grown since your original vision?
Danielle: The vision was always to use photography as a tool for change and that’s never really changed, though the way we carry out the mission has become bigger and bigger.
Kathryn: In what way is photography a powerful tool for change?
Danielle: Just the taking of a photograph and listening to someone’s story can help. When you combine photography with activism at the grassroots level, there is no telling the multitudes of ways it can help people.
Kathryn: What do you hope to express through your own photography?
Danielle: My goal is to help people connect to the greater good. I think much of the misery in this world comes from a place where people feel powerless. I want to remind people of their power through humble examples of humanity that prove that you don’t need to be rich to make a difference. And when we start to match our “real selves” to our “ideal selves,” the misery often melts away.
Kathryn: You come across as a very strong, determined individual doing great work in the world. What experiences have given you this strength?
Danielle: There were so many traumatic moments in my life that at some point I lost any fear of failure in my pursuits in life. We all know we’re going to die. I understood this very young.
Kathryn: You’ve done some powerful work on the topic of surviving sexual assault. What can you tell us about that work?
Danielle: Right now I’m working on two series. “Reclamation” is a study of women in control of their bodies. It’s about power and self-love. It’s a reflection of the process we feel as survivors of sexual assault. “The Accused” is an expression of the anger and frustration sexual assault survivors go through when dealing with the police and the legal system. My favorite quote that sums up this project is, “Rape is the only crime where the victim becomes the accused.” I’ve publicly shared my horrible experience with police on CBC and am now on the board of the Dandelion Initiative, a grassroots organization run for and by survivors.
Kathryn: As an inspiration to young women, what message would you most like to get out in the world right now?
Danielle: Don’t take anyone’s advice unless you aspire to be like them. Write your dreams down and stick them on your wall. Manifest your destiny by pursuing the worthy goal of aligning the real and ideal self. Lose the expectations, work hard and be humble. Help your sisters and brothers when you can.
Kathryn: In addition to everything else that you do, you are also a teacher. What do students learn in your Multimedia Narratives course?
Danielle: They learn change and campaign psychology in relation to environmental topics using photography and video mediums.
Kathryn: How do you think narrative art/ discourse has changed in the age of social media?
Danielle: I don’t think it’s changed; I just think there’s just a lot more information and that means there’s a lot more misinformation as well. The Internet dream was that society would become highly educated with all of the free information floating around. I think what the fake news phenomenon symbolizes is that people are far more driven by emotional reasoning than by logical reasoning. This is very important to understand if you’re someone who wishes to delve into “change creation” because we can actually do a lot of damage by reinforcing unhelpful narratives. This is even more so the case when we are talking about the science community. I think scientists and those wishing to communicate science and conservation issues would do well to observe grassroots efforts and learn more about psychology.
Kathryn: You have an upcoming TED talk on “Accelerated Evolution” – any chance we can get a sneak peek of anything you might share in that?
Danielle: I won’t go into too much detail, but I will be talking about my story and conservation work in Sumatra.
Kathryn: You stay so busy. What keeps you motivated to stay so active? What kind of self-care do you rely on to keep going day in and day out?
Danielle: It’s a positive feedback loop where the work itself keeps me active and motivated. I am 100% invested in my work, because it’s my love, it’s my heart.
In terms of self-care: yoga, meditation, massage therapy and reiki have been the most helpful tools for me. I’m a licensed holistic practitioner and practice massage and reiki as well.
Kathryn: What examples from your own career do you have of feeling beaten down / like quitting / not good enough, etc. and how were you able to overcome them?
Danielle: I overcome everything by remembering that when you stand for something, you can not please everyone. Operating in a capitalist society is hard for authentic people. We have to find ways of aligning our careers with our need for authenticity.
Visit Danielle’s website to explore her powerful work.