Since the camera was invented in 1826, it has been used to document everything from social injustice, inequality, famine, war, and human rights abuses to uplifting scenes of humanity, brotherhood, victory, love, and hope. Because photography has the power to visually reveal the truth, throughout history photographs have made huge impacts on social consciousness and ultimately shaped public opinion on many destructive government policies.

Take, for example, the power of television during the Vietnam War. During the war, Americans were able to see the war’s impact on both American soldiers and innocent civilians through their television screens for the first time. Additionally, the bloody images of war and pain, such as Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Napalm Girl,” added to the power of the protests and unpopular public opinion that contributed to the United States’ ultimate retreat.

In this way, visual journalism can emphasize the costs and benefits of policies by putting a human face on issues that appear abstract, or immensely overwhelming and out-of-reach from afar. Because we live in the age of globalism and technology, our actions have an even greater impact on other nations than ever before. Through documentary photography, we now have the ability to show and encourage understanding of the perspective of someone who may live halfway across the world. By sharing these perspectives, viewers are compelled to think about how their decisions have a direct impact on another’s life thousands of miles away. Often, this knowledge spurs public debate on popular social media sites or in larger platforms such as news websites or talk shows. These debates can have strong effects on public opinion, and in this way, the media, traditionally known as the third branch of government, can prevent self-interested parties such as governments and corporations from monopolizing laws and agendas.

Though claims of this public service drew me to documentary photography, it wasn’t until I covered the Rana Plaza collapse that I truly understood its necessity. On April 24, 2013, the world watched in horror as rescue services pulled bodies, both dead and alive, out of the Rana Plaza building. The building housed a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and had collapsed that morning. Though cracks appearing in the building walls the day before led workers to say they would not return until the building was safe, workers were pressured to return to work through threats of losing their whole month’s salary. Ultimately killing 1,136 people and injuring more than 2,000, the collapse marked the deadliest factory catastrophe in the history of the global garment industry.

Though I had covered stories such as the effects of climate change and HIV/AIDS on Bangladeshi communities, the tragedy of Rana Plaza is the most traumatic I have ever experienced. The death, pain, chaos, and destruction were reminiscent of a war zone. Even though the scene was devastating, I knew that I had to push forward to document these people’s stories. In doing so, I came across moments that I will never forget.

On the first day of the collapse, I was trying to balance photographing the scene with helping the hundreds of volunteers rescue the survivors. After an hour, two volunteers saying they wanted to show me something guided me to two dead bodies under the rubble. A black cloth covered the face of a woman clinging to the body of a man. It appeared as though they were hugging, huddled together to survive. Though I had been struggling with wanting to both photograph and physically help, the sight of these two individuals who had been caught in their last moments of life embracing each other convinced me to keep shooting. In that moment, I realized that it was my responsibility to bring the voices of these people to the rest of the world through photographs. The images I took showcase irresponsible policies and the deadly cost of fashion.

Though I continued to document the aftermath of the collapse for one month, it took longer to process all that had unfolded. When I look at my photographs, I can still hear the sounds of the victims’ families grieving. However, even then, I knew that the photographs would eventually be buried by the news and their stories would be forgotten if I didn’t fight to make them known. After experiencing the Rana Plaza tragedy firsthand, I wanted to spread my photographs to share the unjust lives of garment workers and motivate foreigners to take action.

This urge to do something greater became even stronger when I visited New York City in October of 2013, only a few months after the collapse. Seeing all of the large, fancy store windows lined with sale and discount signs, I could not help but think about the labels I saw in the rubble, the faces of the family members who lost loved ones, and the inhumane working conditions of the garment workers in Bangladesh. The contrast between these two worlds was unsettling. How could people buy a pair of pants for only US$9, less than a glass of wine? How is it possible that Bangladeshi garment workers make US$38 a month while this same amount buys dinner for two in NYC?

When discussing these issues with friends there, I realized that most people simply do not know where their clothes come from. To garner public opinion about the clothing industry, I asked people along Fashion Avenue in Manhattan if they knew where their clothes were produced. Many people did not know, and some did not even care. I will never forget one person’s response: “Maybe in some sweatshop in some third world country? Who cares? That is life!”

The questions I asked myself, my friends and the responses I received from strangers about the global garment industry gave me the courage and inspiration to push forward with the issues surrounding the trade. After discussing my concerns with filmmaker Nathan Fitch, our project, “The Cost of Fashion,” was born. We began work on a multimedia piece to link the events surrounding the Rana Plaza collapse and third world production to western consumerism and cutthroat competition for low prices. We also created a website to serve as a platform for viewers to learn more about the collapse and ways in which they can help. On February 6, 2014, along with The Illuminator, a political art collective that has staged hundreds of interventions in public spaces to bring awareness to various social issues, 99 Pickets, a workers’ solidarity group based in New York City, and the International Labor Rights Forum, Mr. Fitch and I arranged a protest on the first night of New York Fashion Week. My images of the Rana Plaza collapse were projected onto the buildings of the Lincoln Center and stores such as The Children’s Place, one of many companies that still owe compensation to the victims of Rana Plaza. As the night progressed and we received reactions from people, I felt very grateful that we were able to collectively work together to represent the victims. For example, I remember that evening a woman talked to me about how corporations are destroying future prospects of the world and exploiting third world countries’ workers, which has a long term impact on the western world. Comments like these reassured me that the work we were doing was effective.

Their voices reached even further when the documentary that Mr. Fitch and I had been working on for months was published in The New York Times in April for the one-year anniversary of the collapse. The short documentary, “The Deadly Cost of Fashion,” has since been viewed more than 400,000 times.

The response was huge: I received hundreds of emails from people who said the video helped them better understand how the consumerism drive in the western world drives industry malpractices such as extremely low wages, out-of-date safety practices, and an overall disregard for workers’ rights. Fashion designers, actresses, and activists turned to blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to comment on the film. Canadian actress Alison Wandzura tweeted on the Cost of Fashion page “No more Joe-Fresh T-shirts for me,” in reference to another company that has yet to compensate the Rana Plaza victims and their families. Miriam Revert, project manager of Slow Supply in Spain, wrote to me saying that the video greatly inspired her slow fashion project, which aims to encourage consumers to place more thought in their purchases rather than falling subject to fast-fashion’s constant onslaught of products that oftentimes creates a need and pressure to buy into every season’s new trends. Lala Lopez, a fashion journalist and consultant, included my photographs from the collapse alongside a blog post for the one-year anniversary. In it she included a moving quote from Tara St. James of sustainable-clothing brand Study NY: “As consumers we have been conditioned to want more, faster and easier. We have forgotten to ask questions and we no longer recognize quality of construction. I believe the only way to create change and stop future tragedies like the one at Rana Plaza is to start asking questions and demand accountability and transparency from designers, brands and corporations. Buy better, but buy less.”

Through protests, the creation of the video and the project, my goal is to not only bringing awareness to the issue at hand but also to the work that remains to be done. In May 2013, just weeks after the Rana Plaza tragedy, over 35 brands and retailers entered into a unique compulsory covenant with Bangladeshi and international trade unions, with NGOs as witness participants and the International Labor Organization as a neutral chair. Over 100 apparel brands and retailers have now signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, committing to work together to ensure safety in almost half of the country’s garment factories. The Accord, which will run for five years, includes impartial reviews by coached fire and building safety experts, public reporting, mandatory repair and revamps financed by brands. The Accord is written in the form of a binding contract, which makes these commitments legally enforceable. On the other hand Alliance, which is a group of 26 North American companies, formed to improve and launch the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative, a binding, five-year undertaking with the commitment of improving safety in the Bangladeshi RMG sector after the collapse. Subsequent to the Rana Plaza collapse, to improve the condition of Bangladeshi garment factories, two organizations Accord and Alliance are working with the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and the ILO to inspect the garment factories all over the country. Recently they visited and inspected 508 factories out of the 626 under their control, banning one factory in Chittagong and further investigating five. Alliance also has plans to open a help line to which workers from 50 factories can call to get support or make complaints. Beginning in July of this year, Alliance will also train garment workers on fire training.

To cover payments to Rana Plaza victims and their families, the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund was established in January 2014 to collect contributions from all around the world. Though the international brands and buyers are not interested to donate funds to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, international labor groups have been putting pressure on the international brands and buyers to donate funds for the victims. So far US$7 million have been donated to the international fund, but US$40 million is needed for the complete compensation. Fifteen companies out of the 29 companies that had clothing manufactured in the building have yet to give compensation to the Rana Plaza Trust Fund. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, the Rana Plaza building housed factories that created clothing for 29 companies who, on average, made a profit of US$20 billion per year.

The Rana Plaza Coordination Committee, which formed last September and is led by the International Labor Organization (ILO), has dedicated itself to persuading governments from the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and others to pressure compensation from these international companies which have not paid the expected compensation.

Through my work with the Rana Plaza collapse victims as well as with activists who work to put pressure on the companies that still owe compensation to the victims, I realized the role that photography plays in trying to create change. I hope that by capturing and sharing my photographs with the world, they will not only bring about more awareness but also encourage people to take action. I believe it is the job of journalists to digest the complexity of an issue and then share the simplified version with general public. Although activists work behind the scenes, oftentimes they are not equipped with the tools to spread awareness through visual means. Photographers provide that visual means to spread information about an issue in an easily digestible way. For example, the aim of the documentary “The Deadly Cost of Fashion” was to help bridge the gap between clothing productions in Bangladesh to the western consumer. By also including a website for more information, the project “The Cost of Fashion” also helped connect activists to viewers seeking more avenues to help. By combining multimedia, photograph, and activism, “The Cost of Fashion” can be considered a photo advocacy project.

I have seen changes in public consciousness brought on by the power of photography, video, and activism. Society is comprised of those afflicted by an issue, those responsible for the issue, and those fighting to spread awareness about the afflicted, and while I believe in the goodness of humanity, a lack of information can lead to thoughtless and harmful decisions. Through the power of imagery, we are pushed to question our core beliefs and our responsibilities to each other as international citizens. In this sense, photography has the power to shine an uncompromising light on crucial issues by transcending borders, religion, race, and social class and provoke those around the world to step up and act. Thus, it is our responsibility as media-makers to provide information to others so that they can make more informed decisions. When people are confronted by powerful imagery, they have a choice: either look away from the image or address the problem. Getting society and others to address the issues through imagery is my aim as a photographer. To meet this responsibility, I keep in mind several questions while photographing: What kind of impact will this photo have on the viewer? What kind of impact does it have on me? Does the photo tell an honest story of the subject? These questions help me create a visual narrative that ultimately symbolizes a larger issue, greater feelings, or significant events. We sometimes put our lives on the line because we believe opinion and influence matter. We aim our pictures at people’s instincts, consciences and compassion, and ultimately we leave them with the choice to either deny or accept the truth at hand.