Read the WeAreOCA blog post , The ethics of aesthetics http://www.weareoca.com/photography/the-ethics-of-aesthetics including all of the replies to it , and write a comment both on the blog page and in your blog. Make sure that you visit all of the links on the blog post.
This post was originally created in 2012 by Jose, and now has 52 comments…I may be a while…
The topic of the article was the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in 60 years, which showed no signs of abating, and how it was photographically represented…famine rears its ugly head even now.
Media work plays a huge part in not only telling stories of the people who are effected by the drought, but also in terms of fundraising. Our advertising value equivalent in July alone for east Africa coverage was over £13million. And the money raised from the appeal has raised a record breaking amount, helping the lives of over 3 million people in the HORN region
We decided to work with Alejandro towards the end of last year. A majority of coverage of the crisis came in July when parts of Somalia were declared famine zones. This is where 4 out of every 10,000 people are dying each day.
The public respond when a crisis is in the news but unfortunately the stories, as they always do in emergency situations, drop off the news agenda. Alejandro’s work for us, depicted a new and very relevant way to tell the story of the people in the HORN and a starting point for discussing the future.
I would agree with some of the points raised that we as a society have become desensitised to images. You may be interested to know that Oxfam runs a strict photographic policy where our images must depict hope, dignity and a realisation that change can happen. We are not about flies in the eyes of small children. I am glad that you noticed a sense of dignity within these images. These are remarkably resilient people.
Getting people out of poverty in a dignified and self-fulfilling way is at the heart of Oxfam’s work. For example, wherever possible we do not give out food donations- except in extreme circumstances where food is not available. Instead, we give temporary cash grants. This prevents the local economy from collapse, gives people freedom of choice and in some cases promotes enterprise. In another example, in Senegal, we operate a clothing enterprise. Clothes that are deemed unsuitable for Oxfam shops in the UK (usually light summerware and bras) are sold to Senegalese market traders at a reasonable rate. This provides jobs to the local community and generates further income for projects in West Africa.
It may also be worth noting that these images are not the end or indeed the beginning of the story. There are a number of images by other photographers shedding light on the emergency operation at work. As with all narratives sometimes you have to set the scene as well as show the potential ending (the solutions)
I hope that Alejandros pictures have shed light on the difficulty of the situation that the people in Turkana face, but I also hope along with that, that their reliance will also inspire and promote discussion on how poverty can be overcome. It is of course, a huge debate, and one that Oxfam is working on tirelessly.
Below are other links posted within the thread:
In 2008 and 2009, Oxfam worked with celebrity photographer Rankin on a photo project in the war-torn eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The result is a book of images, “We are Congo,” that ‘reveals the humanity of people caught in a brutal war and the devastating disease and malnutrition it has spawned.’ Within his book he used two sets of images the first he took, the second he allowed the locals to shoot their own.
I wanted my portraits to do something different. The West has been anesthetized to traditional pictures of disaster zones. My style of portraiture is always about bringing people out of themselves, getting them to share something. I chose to photograph the people against a stark white background instead of in their physical environment. The expressions in their eyes and on their faces—their humanity—was what I wanted people to notice and relate to.
It didn’t seem morally or politically right to just go and take pictures. So I decided to put on a show in the refugee camp, and give the people prints of their portraits. Give them something back. It was incredible. One guy said to me, ‘This photograph is amazing. I wanted to let you know that I will use it on my coffin when I die.’ No-one has ever said anything so moving to me.
I was inspired to return to the DRC in October 2009. I didn’t want to do the same thing as I had done the year before and, as on my first trip, I felt that it was important and right to give something back. So this time I held photographic workshops. I gave out cameras so that the people could have authorship over their own images—show us what was important in their lives. The collection of shots from my second trip builds on those from the first one, but focuses on the relationships that bind people to each other—a mother’s love for her child, a husband’s love for his wife, two friends. The basic, beautiful business of life.
I hope that these photographs can aid understanding. They are neither ugly images of brutality, nor sentimental images of suffering. The world needs a more sustainable form of imagery that, instead of encouraging pity and powerlessness, promotes understanding, connection, and ultimately action. It’s about making people accessible to each other.
It was good to see that local people were given the chance to represent themselves, although I found it difficult to track down further information on this. This project raised £1 million for Oxfam.
to be read and digested…
also to be read and digested…
Zarina Bhimji is of Indian descent, and left Uganda at the age of 11 in 1974 due to the policies, and subsequent expulsions of Ugandan Asians by Idi Amin. Bhimji uses her experiences of her families deportation in her work.
The Tate wrote about her work:
Bhimji’s photographs capture human traces in landscape and architecture. Walls are a recurring motif, attracting her through their absorption of history as they become a record of those who built, lived within and ultimately abandoned them. Despite a conspicuous absence of the body, the photographs emit a human presence. Reference to it is sometimes explicit – a row of guns awaiting use in Illegal Sleep, yet sometimes only implied – the hanging, disconnected and electrical wires in my Burnt my heart …
Bhimji captures her sites with relentless formal concerns intended to convey qualities of universal human emotion and existence – grief, longing, love and hope. Concrete places become abstract sentiments as the physical rhythms of landscape and architecture become psychological
and she herself has said:
I have big questions about what happened in Uganda – the exterminations and erasures – as well as in places like Rwanda and Kosovo. But history is a complex and ambiguous process, and I think that it would narrow the meaning of my work to put it solely in that context. Instead, I like viewers to decide for themselves.
… a photograph cannot give you concrete information, which is why I’m more interested in tone and composition.
Although not directly linked to the topic of famine, it was interesting to see how she represented a narrative, so much about people and history, without including figures within her images, and she believes in the limited truths of a photograph, ‘the author is dead’ principle and prefers her audience to tell their own narratives.
touched on in a previous post….
A blog post posing some very similar questions and raising similar concerns as the OCA thread.
An article by Eric Reeves who has been writing about Sudan for many years, it includes many typical and harrowing images of skeletal people in dire need, he was offering to raise funds for the cause through purchases from his Etsy store or provided links to charities if people wished to donate directly. He obviously believed these ‘negative’ images were more likely to prompt a response.
It seems flippant for me to make academic comments, or argue the toss about how these people should be represented when so many are in danger of starving to death at this very moment due to climate change or war.
I also agree whole-heartedly with Leonie who stated:
what is miss in this discussion is a connection with the West. In order to not be stifled by the images, or be able to make a significant change that goes beyond making a donation, I think photography and maybe campaigns that are targeted at people in the West should focus much more on how all our lives are intertwined through climate change, capitalism and over-consumption in the West. Instead of only focusing on how people in development countries live and suffer, these campaigns should activate the viewers in the West to not only donate money, but take responsibility for the way they live themselves.
Following on from this, and to end my post I’ll finish with Edith Jungslager who picked up on the message both the photographers and the charities should be attempting to illustrate; that these people ‘are not helpless people, but they need help at this moment.’