Shutter to Think: Using Photography to Educate Girls Worldwide

Posted on December 05, 2012, by Louisa Mardirossian, Half the Sky Movement Team

While waiting to pick up their children after school one day in Brooklyn, Boardwalk Empire actress Tracy Middendorf asked her friend, author Jhumpa Lahiri, for a donation — not of money, but of a picture. When Jhumpa insisted that she was not a photographer, Tracy said, “Most of us aren’t, but everybody has a photo they’ve taken that they love.”

Soon after their conversation, Jhumpa offered up a negative from her trip to Kolkata, India, of men sitting outside of a bookstore. With its first donation in place, Shutter to Think — a recently formed organization dedicated to raising money for girls’ education across the globe by selling photographs taken by prominent individuals in the arts — was officially under way.

On the “Learn” page of the Shutter to Think website, Tracy reveals her inspiration for starting the organization by including a quote from Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which states, “In the nineteenth century, the central moral conflict was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was a battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century, the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.”


Tracy Middendorf



Tracy was struck by this message and anxious to effect change. She started heavily researching the topic, and concluded that education was the core solution to many problems that girls in developing countries face. “I felt like I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what I could do as an actress,” she said. “Originally I wanted to have artists donate artwork, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a huge contribution a painting was.”


After a few years of tweaking her plan, Tracy settled on the idea of having well-known actors, writers, directors and musicians donate personal photographs. Contributors include ER actor Anthony Edwards, Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance and New York Times bestselling author Frank Wisner, among fourteen others.

“These are people that are constantly traveling and working on different locations,” Tracy said. “I was curious to see what they find beautiful, and to get a bit of their soul and spirit rather than what’s written about them in tabloids.”

Shutter to Think launched December 1, and will donate 100 percent of each photograph’s profits to one of the eight globally-recognized partner organizations that the buyer chooses, such as such as Room to Read, CARE and Camfed.

Tracy hopes to collect at least 80 images — 16,000 prints — each year to create education funds for at least 16,000 girls. “I’m sort of flying blindly,” she said, when explaining her future plans. “I’ve never done anything like this, and the art world is very arbitrary as far as what people will pay for.”




For those that want to support the cause but cannot afford a print, Tracy has included a “Bags into Books” page on her website. Through this campaign, the sale of each customized Shutter to Think tote bag will provide a girl with a year’s supply of textbooks. For bigger budgets, Tracy has included a “Master Collection,” through which specific prints include personal letters of authentication from the photographers.


Both Shutter to Think and the Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide documentary incorporate celebrities in order to gain viewership and generate interest. “I went after directors, writers, etc., because it’s who I know — they’re my friends,” Tracy said. “I personally would watch the documentary, or be interested in the photographs without the celebrities, but a lot of Americans wouldn’t… It’s more important to get the word out and if that’s what it takes to do so then I think that’s fine.”


To learn more about Shutter to Think and to see the photographs, visit their website, like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.