Local Actor’s Photo Project Forces People to “Shutter to Think”

Tracy Middendorf looks at the plethora of images she has collected for her project. (Photo by Chinwe Oniah)
Tracy Middendorf looks at the plethora of images she has collected for her project. (Photo by Chinwe Oniah)

By Chinwe Oniah

Tracy Middendorf has had a prosperous career as a television and film actress with roles in “Bones,” “Mission: Impossible III,” and the critically acclaimed “Boardwalk Empire”. Still, as the 43-year-old got older she wanted to find something that she could be as passionate about as acting. Then she came up with an idea: A project that raises awareness and funding for girls education.

She called it Shutter to Think.

The project, which started in December 2012, sells photographs taken by celebrities and funnels the proceeds to nine different charities across the globe that raise funds for education, ending child poverty and helping girls escape the sex-trafficking industry. So far, Middendorf says, the project has sold over 100 photos with little publicity.

The first picture of Shutter to Think was this shot donated by Jhumpa Lahiri. (Photo by Jhumpa Lahiri)
The first picture of Shutter to Think was this shot donated by Jhumpa Lahiri. (Photo by Jhumpa Lahiri)

National Book Award Finalist Jhumpa Lahiri, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof and Academy Award nominated director Frank Darabont are a few celebrities that have donated photos. Lahiri contributed the first photograph. At first Lahiri was apprehensive about the project.

“Her first response was concern that she wasn’t a photographer,” Middendorf said. “But when I explained to her that most people have a photo that they’ve taken that they love, she thought of her favorite photo that she took of men in front of a book stall in Calcutta.”

For other photo donations Middendorf relied on her network of celebrity contacts.

“[Director] Miranda Otto had just worked with [actress] Rose Byrne and I had just worked with Miranda, so she emailed her and got a photo from Rose,” Middendorf said.

Popular Brazilian actress Gloria Pires, who starred in the film “Reaching for the Moon” with Otto and Middendorf, also donated a photo.

Middendorf said Shutter to Think was inspired by Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones into Schools,” books about raising funds to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan after a failed attempt to climb K2, the highest mountain after Mount Everest, and Nicholas Kristof’s book “Half the Sky” which focuses on sex trafficking, violence against girls and women in developing parts of the world, and the lack of education they receive.

Another shot that has become part of Shutter to Think. (Photo courtesy Tracy Middendorf)
Another shot that has become part of Shutter to Think. (Photo courtesy Tracy Middendorf)

The U.S. State Department reported in 2011 that 27 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, 100,000 of them in the U.S.

“I knew there was inequality for girls just in this country, but I didn’t know to that extent,” Middendorf said.

“I love photography and I love what they [contributors] donate and it’s such an easy process,” Middendorf said of her project.

The process is simple. All it takes is the click of a shutter. Contributors can send any kind of photo they want. Each photo comes with a letter of authenticity with the photographer’s signature.

Buyers pick a photo from Shutter to Think’s collection at prices ranging from $50-$200, then choose one of the nine charities – The Girl Effect, The Malala Fund and others – to send the money to.  If they don’t choose a charity, Middendorf apportions the contribution among the charities.

Supporters can also buy a $35 tote with the Shutter to Think logo for the Bags into Books Campaign, an arm of the project that sends funds to Care International. For each bag sold, the organization provides a set of books for a girl in need.

Middendorf, who runs the project out of  her Brooklyn home in her spare time, said  she has never done anything like this.

“It’s me and a few interns that have been helping put the site together and a few people who have helped with a little bit of the social networking,” she said.

Middendorf funds Shutter to Think out of her own pocket, avoiding what she calls the cumbersome “hoops of being a non-profit.”

The project, she said, is “helping to support these charities. They’re doing all the legwork. We’re simply donating funds.”

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