Danielle Da Silva’s photos do more than entertain the eye‒ they provoke the mind. Scrolling through her portfolio is an experience that pulls at your core and demands your attention. Each compelling image tells a story of the people she’s met, the places she’s been and the moments she’s lived; a journey, which she says, was guided by none other than intuition itself.
As a photographer, filmmaker, conservationist and activist, Danielle has catered her career to producing stories that rouse interest and inspire change. In 2009, she founded Photographers Without Borders (PWB), an organization that connects visual storytellers with grassroots initiatives, nonprofits and non-governmental organizations around the world. She is the sitting CEO and, since PWB’s creation, has connected over 175 storytellers with over 175 organizations, all the while addressing all of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in over 35 countries.
“Storytelling helps us visualize and imagine new possibilities,” reads a quote from Danielle on her website. “That way we can manifest new realities.”
Growing up, Danielle says she was always filled with a burning sense of curiosity. Having a Portuguese mother and a British father of Indian-Pakistani descent, she said, prompted her to carry forward a quest of identity that was passed on from the generations before her. Her circumstances manifested into various solo travels at a young age, but it wasn’t until 2008 when she visited Kerala, India and worked with the Swami Vivekananda Medical Mission that she was truly propelled on a path of self-discovery.
“I took photos the entire time I was there and produced these amateur images that people seemed to really like when I came back. And that kind of struck a chord in me,” she said. “With those images, we were able to raise money to build nine schools in little villages. And that was a huge indicator to me of the power of storytelling.”
With no real formal training behind the lens, Danielle’s knack for photography came about rather organically. Following her trip to India, she was urged to pursue this apparent gift, and slowly, she began to merge her newfound passion for storytelling with her education in science and global development. Her work was met with a strong momentum, and has since carried her to more than 80 countries working with humanitarian groups that assist women, children, marginalized communities and conservation efforts.
In 2016, after a trip to Indonesia with PWB, Danielle co-founded the Sumatran Wildlife Sanctuary, which works to conserve rainforest habitat near the Gunung Leuser ecosystem. That same year, she also co-founded a local non-profit called The Dandelion Initiative, which, after witnessing cases of harassment in her field and experiencing the trauma of assault herself, advocates to end sexual violence through community action.
Throughout this dynamic journey, she’s mastered six languages and garnered the inspiration for two powerful TED Talks. But, the real goal in each of her ventures is to produce a narrative that evokes something visceral. “My photography is very, I think, unsettling sometimes…and I find that that’s something that’s really necessary right now. We’re so overloaded with information and imagery…and I think that my images make people look twice,” she said. “I think that can have an impact on people’s emotions, how they view different situations in the world and how they view their relationships to them.”
Danielle believes that it’s this exact push and pull between photograph and viewer that can reshape perspectives and breed positive change. Her motivation for setting the stage, so to speak, is rooted in her intuition‒ a natural, instinctive feeling that tells her what’s right, she said. Using this guiding force to navigate through the world, she hopes that her content continues to shed light on her own self-discovery, and not only inspires the communities that are featured through her work, but also other female storytellers who are awakening to the true potential of their art.–
“Don’t let anything get in the way and always follow your intuition because we [women] have a very strong sense of it. It’s something that a lot of men don’t have or have to work hard at, and I think that that can really be a good guide,” she said. “Using that intuition will help you flourish and thrive, and reimagine what the industry can be.”