Solitude: My winning shot for The Guardian newspaper competition in 2011

For me photography is not about the technical workings of a camera, it is not about arguing over Nikon v. Canon and it is definitely not about being over the top about f-stops. Sure, knowing how the camera works is essential (not working on this is like having a blunt pencil as a sketch artist – you can still draw but the image will not live up to your imagination), but it is not why I am into photography. Four years ago I started to get really interested in photography as a means of expressing the visual stories that captured my imagination as I travelled the world. Working in the international development sector made me quickly realise that often stories of hope are sadly passed up for ones that lack dignity, honesty and images that empower. I started on my journey initially to try to challenge stereotypes of the ‘majority world’ and to create images that would inspire people to love this world we live in just a little bit more. I set up Laura Cook Photography and I began to shoot.

One of my favourite portraits of a young teenager in Nepal. I love it because it shows the strength in her eyes; life is tough but is still a life that is met head on by women in the remote Syanja District in Nepal. I took this photograph for INGO the Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF)

I have decided to start this blog now as I feel I am at a turning point with my photography. The past four years have been a blessing, giving me a lot of opportunities to learn and to decide what I really feel passionate about. I am still working on that of course but I have now defined three of the most important things to me:

– It is not about being a ‘photographer’ but it is about using photos as a tool to tell compelling stories about life. The things that make up our world are these fragile moments of hope, love, loss, birth, death, belonging and growth. If I can tell these stories in a way that will inspire others or cause people to stop and think then that is a blessing to me.

– I want my subjects to be as involved in the process of the photography as they can be. I really enjoyed running a participatory photography project with individuals living with HIV in Malawi for Tearfund in 2011 and I learnt so much watching people craft stories that had never had the chance to use a camera before. Even when I am behind the camera I want to find new ways to involve people in how their image is created.

My faith is central to me in this work. I see my work as a photographer as an expression of my Christian faith. I am happy working alongside people of all faiths or none but also believe as a Christian I have a duty to show compassion and love to all I come in contact with. Through the images I create I hope to promote a vision of a world worth loving by others.

Working with wonderful people like Baro and Natina in Mali has been the highlight of the NGO work I have done so far. Sometimes we focus on differences in the world but actually its all the things that unite us as human beings that make being visual storyteller a lot of fun!

In less than a year I will be taking on a new job role for The Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone as a communications and media officer and a large part of that work will be using images and words to paint a more positive image of the country and its people. Sometimes places get stuck with a reputation that they do not deserve and I cannot wait to challenge some of those stereotypes working for an exciting and challenging organisation like CBF.

Sierra Leone captured a little piece of my heart as a visual storyteller because it has so many more stories to tell than just those of horror, war and blood diamonds. These women are part of an adult literacy class in Kamakwie. They are beneficiaries of the Sella Community Project.

I think this is always who and what I was meant to be. I have been given some amazing opportunities and have worked (and still work) in jobs that I have loved but I know with all of my heart that this next move is the right one. Being a full-time visual communicator will be a joy and a privilege. In addition to this I  have a wonderful husband who has also been blessed with a vision for Sierra Leone; and although working in a different capacity to me he will be a change maker too. I am proud of him. I like to think we are all change makers…. we just need to make that leap and do what we love and do what stirs the fire in our heart. For me capturing images and telling stories makes me feel alive and gives me the chance to promote a world worth loving. That is an exciting journey to be at the start of!

One of the first images I took four years ago that stirred my interest in becoming a visual storyteller. This has already been a great journey!