This profile is part of TakePart’s “Re-Visionaries” series, in which we highlight people who are shaking things up—and making a difference—in their field and community.
At her day job, classically trained cellist and USC-educated mechanical engineer Dolce Wang is creative director of the development of future technology for Disney theme parks. On the side, she runs the Vox Photo Project, traveling the world teaching photography to children in rural villages and arming locals and nonprofits with the technology and skills for self-representation. She exhibits the work stateside to raise money for the photographers’ families and in one case an entire health clinic for a Colombian orphanage full of disabled children. Wang talked to TakePart about the project.
TakePart: When did Vox Photo Project begin?
Dolce Wang: Starting in high school, I was always volunteering. I think I caught the bug through my church. In college, I had the opportunity to go to Ghana in West Africa. That was my first big international trip, to a school in a little town 30 minutes outside of Kumasi. It’s not on Google Maps. I started doing construction work at the school, teaching, whatever was needed.
On my second trip to Ghana, I thought I was going to film a documentary. I changed my plans because this girl I sponsored went missing. I spent the entire month looking for her. I really saw the reality of what people go through. I talked to everyone in the village to figure out where she was. Long story short, I did find her. She came back [with me], and my roommates and I sponsored her. I lived in a house in South Central [Los Angeles]. There were eight of us scraping by, all women. We all chipped in five, 10 dollars a month and supported Ophelia and her sisters to continue school.
When she graduated, I went back to Ghana to throw a graduation ceremony and continue what I thought was going to be a documentary film. I thought, “Why don’t I teach some photography too?” I brought a couple disposable cameras and taught this very impromptu class. There were six kids, and they shared the two disposable cameras. They’d never used a camera before. When we developed the photos, it was amazing to intimately see each kid’s home, their family. And every kid had a different style. When I came back to the States, I kept thinking, these are stories worth telling.
TakePart: Why is photography such an important tool for self-expression?
Wang: I’m always thinking about efficiency. Maybe that’s from the engineering background. I’m probably more qualified to teach music, but photography is such a powerful tool because it has such a quick learning curve. These kids got it immediately. When I think about the NGOs who are supporting the community, they also need a window into what they’re doing for people to trust them. When they’re barely scraping by, it’s hard to put resources into art. I always leave a set of cameras. I train the locals so they have the soft skills, and then I give them the hardware and a sustainability kit so they can continue representing themselves. Photography is the easiest way to show what you’re doing. And it’s just fun.
TakePart: What’s next for Vox Photo Project? How would the $5,000 prize money help?
Wang: Because I’m working in Shanghai, I want to do four photo projects in Asia. I haven’t even represented my own people. So I will do one in Shanghai, Taiwan, and hopefully Mongolia and Tibet. I would love to add either a film or a V.R. component, thinking in terms of the exhibits. I would love to capture the environments. If I could bring a 360-degree camera and use that as part of the exhibit, that would be so cool. I think it’d be very powerful.
Over the next five years, I want to train other people who want to do this, so it’s not only me running around. I love this kind of work because with Imagineering [at Disney], everything is proprietary, but with this, I don’t care if people take my idea. I’d be happy to train people. Because it’s all been grass roots, I would love to have a solid team. I need to build a website, all the infrastructure. All the donations always go back to the communities, but I think I need to come up with something more sustainable for the project itself.
TakePart: What does it mean to be a Re-Visionary?
Wang: For me, it’s about using creativity to bring about social change. And more than that—this might be because I work in the entertainment industry—if we could use just a fragment of the resources and money that we pour into the entertainment industry and point that toward serving others, that would change the game.
This sponsored story is presented in collaboration with Kia.