Susan Sontag, in explaining the way a single photograph can be used to support any number of points of view, stated that "all photographs wait to be explained or falsified by their captions" (2003: 10).
by Sonya de Laat In this article that explores two themes that dominated the humanitarian visual landscape of 2015, the author invites readers to turn attention away from photographic content or form, and consider instead the medium of photography, the technology itself, as essentially and inherently shocking.
Maternal mortality was once described as the neglected tragedy of global health. Though it was estimated in the 1980s that nearly half a million women died each year from pregnancy and birth related causes – 99% of them in the global south – little attention was paid and little progress was made for many years. Recently, however, the problem of maternal mortality has become somewhat of a cause célèbre attracting the attention of world leaders, billionaire philanthropists, celebrity journalists, and filmmakers.
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. Guidelines and codes of conduct adopted in several countries nearly a decade ago affirmed that all future communications by international development NGOs must be based on core values of human dignity, respect and truthfulness. Despite this, recent years have witnessed NGOs that should know better reverting to type, calling up disaster images from the 1970s in a desperate attempt to increase their organizational income, whatever the cost. A battle which we thought had been won many years ago clearly needs to be fought afresh in each new generation.
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. My interview with Yazan Khalili brought to the surface the visual dilemmas of a catastrophic monument, or as he puts it, “can we resist The Wall by photographing it, or should we resist the photograph framing it?”
It's Giving Tuesday 2013. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday asks consumers to make meaningful gifts. I sift through my Inbox: 'Choose What Moves You'. It is an invitation from the Canadian Red Cross to: “take part in Canada’s first national day dedicated to giving and thinking about others in need.” Charities have long played on our emotions and senses of right and wrong. Here was a slightly different campaign—one that was inviting us as Canadians to render what might otherwise be a subconscious motivator for giving —affect—into the conscious basis for giving.
I took this picture about 21 months after the 2010 Haiti earthquake that caused so many deaths and so much destruction. I was a passenger being driven along a main street in the capital. I saw the camp of tents, and took this photo through the car window. It was only later that I paid any attention to the hoarding, an advertisement for fancy aluminum windows and doors. The contrast was striking. Housing plays a direct and indirect role in health, affecting both physical and psychological status.
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.
Nicaraguan agricultural workers, 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 pesticide 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.
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…