Photography with a Difference: Manila Zoo and special children

The Photography with a Difference initiative began in 2008 with an unlikely friendship between an 25-year-old with autism (Ian) and a photographer who believed in the power of pictures for touching people’s lives (John).

John invited Ian and his mother to Manila Zoo, hoping to give them pictures of happy memories to console them through difficult times. John taught Ian photography tips and got him started with a simple point-and-shoot camera. He was amazed by the unusual approaches Ian took. John showed Ian’s photographs to a newspaper editor, and Ian’s photos were featured on the front page. More than that, Ian’s growing passion for photography helped him and his mother deal with life’s challenges.

Word traveled fast. Hopeful parents of special children reached out to John to see if he could help them create that sort of magical experience for their family. Excited by the possibilities, John reached out to other photographers on, Facebook, and other online networks Рto an overwhelming response. Photographers loved the idea of helping families bond. Not only that, they put their lens where their mouse was. They volunteered at the sessions John organized at Manila Zoo, planned their own sessions in cities around the Philippines and around the world, and showcased the best photos in exhibits that built awareness of and advocacy for people with disabilities.

Manila Zoo enchanted children of all kinds. Blind children ran their fingers over the knobbly texture of a crocodile’s skin. Photographers and parents used sign language to teach deaf children about the animals around them. Grown-ups weren’t immune to the spell, either, gradually overcoming their fear of snakes or the intimidation they felt when faced with the elephant as they saw their children fearlessly playing.

Canon was one of the first corporate sponsors of the Photography with a Difference initiative. Not only did Canon provide equipment, assist with printing and publicity, and help organize sessions, Canon also built a learning center for hosting workshops in drawing, painting, and photography.

It’s amazing what a difference volunteers and sponsors can make!

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