The Unwelcome Return of Development Porn

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.

A Poster Campaign: A Response to MSF 2005

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.

Donor Solicitation Quagmire

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. 

Images that Cut into You, c/o MSF

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.