My sister-in-law once asked me, “When do you feel your greatest strengths and gifts are aligning with the world’s greatest needs?”
To answer this, I decided to embrace my multifaceted nature. I realized I could be both creative and analytical, both a specialist and a generalist, an artist and a scientist. I’m finally utilizing my gift of integrating and connecting worlds by allowing myself to integrate and connect my own talents – my social science and justice background and my love for visual storytelling.
Each person’s story is unique and sacred and has the ability to move others. Everyone’s story deserves to be shared, but above that, deeply respected.
There is often a big disconnect between the photography industry and the humanitarian sector. With better visual storytelling, humanitarian work can become more accessible, relatable, and effective to our larger communities. There is also a need for the cultivation of a more ethical, less-exploitative manner of storytelling in the humanitarian and photography field. This is especially important with stories of underprivileged children.
By combining my theoretical training from my community psychology PhD, 10+ years of not-for-profit and social justice experience, and my passion for visual storytelling, I hope to narrow these gaps to make a greater impact in humanitarian research and work, while contributing to a more ethical and human-centered side of photojournalism and social documentary photography.
Hy recently finished his PhD in an interdisciplinary community psychology program at Clemson University called “International Family & Community Studies”, where he explored his interests in improved efficacy of civic engagement and volunteer programs, international children’s rights and policy, youth-led and asset-based community development approaches, and orphan and vulnerable children (OVC) psychological well-being. Over the course of his PhD career, he taught several undergraduate classes on civic engagement and assisted with research and publications on orphaned children’s rights, adolescent dating violence, and bullying prevention. Currently, Hy is at the Center for Health Policy & Inequalities Research at Duke University and is splitting his time between OVC research/data analysis and communications/visual storytelling work.
From 2008-2011, Hy maintained a popular photo-story blog about street food and culture in Vietnam that eventually landed him a spot as one of two representatives for Vietnam at the First ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Blogger’s Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. At the conference, Hy was able to speak about his passion for photography as a vehicle for social change.
In summer of 2012, Hy designed and facilitated a 2-week photography character development program for 40 kids at his orphanage in collaboration with 10 volunteers from San Jose, CA. The project focused on documenting and sharing the children’s lives by empowering them to show the world ‘through their eyes.” The program consisted of four different photo project cycles (nature and environments, detail and macro, people, and self-portraits), each supplemented by a series of relevant youth-led character workshops. At the end of the program, Hy facilitated a local photo exhibition to engage with the greater community.
Since then, Hy has done a few solo and collaborate photo shows both in the U.S. and overseas centered around his social documentary photography. Hy also continues to work with local and international nonprofit organizations on their visual storytelling.