by John Hilary
For 35 years now, there has been a raging debate within international NGO circles around the use of images of starving black children in fundraising materials. One seminal piece by Jorgen Lissner in the New Internationalist accused aid agencies of ‘social pornography’ in stripping individual children of their dignity and presenting them to the Western viewer as helpless objects isolated from any social or historical context, and called for an end to the racist distortion that this perpetuated in people’s conception of the majority world.
by Dr Paul Bouvier
Thank you for sharing these very interesting reflections on the use of images in this MSF campaign. As is underlined by de Laat in her piece, this campaign in 2005 was a creative attempt to find ways out of traditional campaigns based on images from abroad. This attempt raised, however, other concerns related to the use of individual portraits in humanitarian campaigns. I was at the time the director of the Services for health promotion and protection for children and youth in the canton of Geneva. This is how I have been involved in the management of unanticipated effects of the campaign.
by Nayrouz Abu Hatoum, York University
A landscape is not on the verge of collapse, unless a vanishing landscape is a collapsing one. I came to this realization during my fieldwork in Palestine (2012), when I spent a year travelling between different cities and landscapes. I was trying to capture the visual presence and absence of the separation wall in Palestine and how The Wall’s presence and absence was mirrored in Israeli national discourse. I interviewed several Palestinian and Israeli photographers and artists, but was particularly struck by the photographic work of Palestinian artist Yazan Khalili. In Landscape of Darkness (2010) and On Love and Other Landscapes (2011) we see reflections on love, memory, pain and vanishing landscapes, which bring to the surface Khalili’s hesitation of capturing The Wall in photographic frames. His hesitation is coming from a place of resisting The Wall through shifting Palestinians’ gaze onward towards themselves, in a way that removes the catastrophe from their self-representation.
by Elysée Nouvet
Giving Tuesday launched in countries across the globe on December 3rd this year. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday asks consumers to make meaningful gifts. As the Red Cross stated: “We’re inviting you to take part in Canada’s first national day dedicated to giving and thinking about others in need.”
It is the key phrase of the Canadian Red Cross Campaign that grabs me before my second cup of coffee on December 3rd as I sift through my InBox: Choose what moves you.
by Harry Shannon
I took this picture about 21 months after the 2010 Haiti earthquake that caused so many deaths and so much destruction. A study I co-authored (Kolbe et al. 2010) estimated that in the capital, Port-au-Prince, the excess mortality due to the quake was about 156,000, with thousands more dying elsewhere in the country. We also found that a quarter of homes were completely destroyed, and a further 40% had some damage, leaving only a third with no visible damage.
by Sonya de Laat
I felt many things when I took this photo of human remains housed temporarily in a shed while the mass grave is reconstructed. Each time I raised my camera, I felt intrusive—intruding on people’s personal grief, something that ought to be respected, away from inquisitive/prying eyes. I also felt protected—reminiscent of Susan Sontag’s perception about picture-taking: it’s ability to relieve anxiety.
She was referring in particular to tourists who are outside of their comfort zone, disoriented; the camera is a place to hide. I felt protected from having to feel the space. This is a great negative of taking photos; not experiencing the sites as such. I was outside, looking in on affect instead. I also felt privileged. The feeling came mainly from the fact that we, the people I travelled with, were all included on our instructor’s permission form allowing us to take pictures, unlike other visitors. The sensation of privilege also stemmed from the knowledge that I would be able to take the images back with me, not only in my mind, but also in my camera allowing me more opportunities to reflect, critique and consider the memorial spaces and my own aesthetic choices at a later time. Though we had official consent from the ‘powers that be’ ethically it may still be questionable whether or not to take any photo. In this circumstance, the guides, survivors themselves, apparently had no issue with us taking photos. My impression was that they were more than willing to share knowledge about the genocide, including visual knowledge. Any ethical dilemmas I had were solely my own.
Sonya de Laat (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a PhD candidate in the Media Studies program in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University in London, Canada, and a Research Coordinator for the Humanitarian Health Ethics Research Group at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Canada.
Photo location: Bisesero, Rwanda
by Alberto Guevara
A wide variety of health problems are attributed to nemagón also called DBCP or debromochloropropane. This pesticide, banned in the U.S. in the 1960s but used throughout many parts of the Global South into the 1980s, is associated with sterility in men, menstrual disruptions and miscarriages in women, discoloration of the skin, various cancers, and renal failure.
All agricultural workers I met in Nicaragua who had been exposed to nemagón over the course of years working on banana plantations complained of chronic bone and muscle pains, sensations of burning, migraines, sleeplessness and loss of motor control. These Nicaraguans, camped in protest across from the National Assembly in downtown Managua from 2000-2010, deployed their naked flesh as mirrors of the violent indifference with which they were treated by Dow chemical and the banana business that allowed their exposure to the dangerous nemagón. Many have lifted shirts and leg pants, or in the case of men even stripped down to nothing to expose their dying flesh in protests, to the government, the media, various courts, and other Nicaraguans. I took this and other close-up photos of protesters’ bodies, with the nemagoneros’ explicit encouragement and consent, as a way of bearing witness to their situation but also wanting to document these Nicaraguans’ tragic but politically powerful use of their dying/diseased bodies as rhetorical and political weapons.
Alberto Guevara (email@example.com) is an Associate Professor of Performance Studies in the Department of Theatre at York University, Toronto, Canada.
Photo location: Managua, Nicaragua
by Sonya DeLaat
The MSF campaign, pictured above, struck me as one taking a positive step in the direction away from the old-style aid-appeal. By consciously (and perhaps even courageously) employing stereotypically “Western”-looking models, the campaign is responding to the accusations of essentialism, Orentialism, and infantilism. Instead of images of emaciated, brown skinned, ghost-like figures, this campaign seems to be straying from the norm, attempting something more original.
by Elysée Nouvet
I was referred to this ad campaign by Picturing Humanitarian Healthcare co-editor Philippe Calain. As I opened up the file with its set of MSF posters, I felt my stomach harden and my chest grow tight. I imagine most persons will have a visceral response to this campaign featuring sutures formed into words and symbols on torsos. It is also probably not accidental that the bodies that form the ‘canvases’ of this campaign are white given the campaign’s intended French speaking and European audience. Was I myself sickened? Outraged? No. The images are hard to look at and shocking. They are also, in my view, highly effective in promoting the intrinsic ethical value of MSF’s work.