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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Behind the Lens: A Conversation with Annie Griffiths

Oct 14, 2023 09:16PM ● By Suzie Agrillo
Annie Griffiths

Annie Griffiths

As part of the ongoing Changemaker Series at The Fox Tucson Theatre, photographer Annie Griffiths is bringing her brilliant wit, humor and vivacity to the stage in a live showcase on October 18. One lucky ticket holder will win a signed print from the book Griffiths did with Tucson’s own Barbara Kingsolver.

A graduate of the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism, Griffiths was one of the first women photographers at National Geographic. She has photographed in over 100 countries during her long career, and worked on projects about Lawrence of Arabia, Galilee, Petra, New Zealand, Jerusalem and many others. A devoted mother of two children, Griffiths would often take her two kids with her while on National Geographic assignments. She documented her experiences in a book published in 2008, A Camera, Two Kids, and a Camel: My Journey in Photographs.

The multi-talented Griffiths is also a world-renowned speaker. The World Presidents Association named her one of the “Best of the Best Speakers”. She is a popular guest on The Today Show, Good Morning America and NPR. While these accomplishments alone are worthy of a lifetime achievement award, Griffiths doesn’t rest her laurels.

Having observed many hardships in the world, she decided to follow her heart’s passion to contribute to those in need. She founded the nonprofit Ripple Effect Images, which has helped raise over 10 million dollars for nonprofits that assist women and children worldwide.

Griffiths is truly an American treasure. It comes as no surprise that she uses her prolific photography skills to create her own ripple effect. Griffiths puts it best when she says, “If each of us can search inside ourselves for a little acorn of time or passion or ability, and find creative ways to offer that gift, a forest begins to grow.”

Q & A with Photographer Annie Griffiths

What made you choose photography as your vocation?

It kind of chose me. I’ve always been interested in writing and storytelling. When I was in college, I saw the power of photography and its ability to tell stories. So I changed my major from journalism to photojournalism, and have been on a tear ever since. I’ve been so lucky.

Did you face any obstacles being one of the first female photographers to work with National Geographic?

I actually think it was a huge advantage. I had the access that men just didn’t have as well as the understanding of what stories were important to women. I used to tease my friend, David Doubilet, who is a brilliant underwater photographer, that he had two thirds of the planet to himself. Then I realized that I had half the population to myself. That perspective was so needed in photography and journalism.

Being a woman is also an advantage because I’m less threatening, so it’s easier for me to imbed with people. I even think being Midwestern and a former waitress was helpful, because you learn how to read people and sincerely connect with them so that they trust you. Trust is a huge component when photographing any culture.

Your lecture at the Fox Theatre is part of the Changemaker speaker series. What are the qualities of a changemaker?

That’s a great question. Changemakers are a group of people who are deeply curious. That curiosity drives them to experience things that have real meaning, that have relevance. And then they do something about it!

How did your photography work inspire you to start Ripple Effect Images?

What inspired me was a recognition that I’d been given an extraordinary opportunity to witness and be with women globally. They welcomed me, and they were so kind to me, and most of the people I’m with have never heard of National Geographic. It’s very touching because they welcomed me as an individual.

I felt so grateful that I wanted to find a way to give back. I started Ripple Effect Images to help people get a more accurate view of poor women. I wanted them not to be seen as tragic figures, but rather as the hub of every community—as the bright, skilled, incredibly resourceful and delightful people that they are. That simply isn’t presented much in the media.

I learned early on that the best investment we can make in our shared future is to invest in women. Data has confirmed this. Women pay forward any opportunity they have, and I felt the need to be part of letting the Western world know how worthy of investment they are.

Could you please tell us about the project and share a success story about a nonprofit you helped?

It’s a unique concept. We don’t fund the nonprofits. What we do is look for those who have found successful solutions. Then we provide them with beautiful photos and a film that can help them raise awareness and funding. Our nonprofits have been able to use the materials we’ve supplied to raise well over 10 million dollars.

One nonprofit was really concerned they were about to go under, and they were doing very important work. We provided them with photos and film, and they went to a big funder and secured a 4-million-dollar donation. They were able to save and expand their program.

Nonprofits are so focused on their work, as they should be, but they are often not very good at telling their own story, so to give them compelling material about the work they’re doing is an incredibly helpful resource.

Please tell us about your new essay series and how to subscribe. 

I have what’s called a Substack. It’s a wonderful writer’s forum with hundreds of writers ranging from extremely well-known writers to individuals that are submitting their first writing adventure. Anyone can go online and get a free subscription to writers they want to follow. Subscribers can also choose to become paid subscribers, to support the author or a cause.

My Substack is called “You’re Not That Nice”. It looks at the world from the perspective of women today. I try to keep it light and very funny, but also relevant. Anyone can subscribe for free, but paid subscriptions are shared with Ripple, so it’s a fundraiser for Ripple.

You just got back from Greenland and Turkey. Where are you traveling too next?

I’m going to Minneapolis to give a presentation, then I’m coming to you guys to present at the Fox Theatre. I’ll be home for the holidays, so that’s nice.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Curious, warm and creative.

Who is your favorite author?

Barbara Kingsolver. She lived in Tucson for a long time. She’s one of my best friends. Barbara and I did a book called Last Stand: America’s Virgin Land. It was written to encourage Americans to save the last wilderness in our country. It’s a beautiful book—Barbara’s essays are extraordinary.

What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?

Say yes to things. And don’t make any decision based on fear.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your show in Tucson?

Yes. From the ticket sales there’s going to be a name drawn, and someone will win a signed print from the book I did with Barbara Kingsolver. It will be an image from one of my favorite states—I love Arizona.

Join Annie Griffiths, a world-renowned photojournalist, as she shares the secrets to connecting with people from all walks of life, at Through the Lens: Creating a Ripple, on October 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Fox Tucson Theatre, located at 17 West Congress, in Tucson. Tickets: $20. Connect at

Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer in Tucson, and a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses on writing about the arts, inspirational people and the human connection. Connect at [email protected].

The Fox Tucson Theatre - 17 W Congress Tucson AZ

The Fox Tucson Theatre - 17 W Congress, Tucson, AZ

Opening: The Fox Tucson Theatre opened on April 11, 1930, as a dual vaudeville/movie house. The Fox featured a stage, full fly-loft, and dressing rooms beneath the stage. The combined ef... Read More »