(The Humanitarian Social Network)
I was on a really interesting conference call yesterday organized by CORE Group about how NGOs take and use photos. There were a ton of folks on the call and lots of interest on Twitter, so I blogged about it. Be nice to generate some conversations here also.
Here's my summary post of the meeting.
What do folks have to add to the discussion?
it's a fascinating and increasingly critical issue, Linda - thanks for moving it over to AidSource :)
My initial reactions:
1) Seems like this fits into the broader sea-change going on in public consciousness about aid from the outside. I wrote here about donors now having increased ability to take us to task, but it applies to recipients of aid, too.
2) The right to personal privacy (to not be photographed without ones' consent, to not have a photograph of oneself published without ones' own consent...) feels like it ought to be something like a given. Obviously, though, if we take this as a given it has huge practical implications, not just for NGOs, but for news media, for even casual personal use of, say, Facebook or Flickr or... even this network (!)
3) This whole thing, for me, begs further and better discussion about what David Damberger (Engineers Without Borders) goes on about here- how an image or photograph or the story told by an image/photograph may be 'True' when it's taken, but becomes a lie later...
Really interesting post and discussions... I work as a photographer for NGO's, and there is a lot to think about. Most of my clients are really conscious of both consent and appropriate usage of photos, as am I. The blog addresses a lot of really interesting issues which I deal with on a regular basis. The permission can be an interesting issue in some remote areas, as even with a translator, it is difficult to explain to someone what the ramifications of 'online' images can be when they have never seen a computer!
Anna I've seen some of your photos, very nice pics! I take the chance to make about about some of pictures...
I'm exploring the child soldier sector and sad to say that despite rules are codified and vulgarized to protect children there is abundant use of pictures of young guys with giant weapons. I think Unicef already made a manual for press/journalists on how to deal with child soldiers and demobilized ones: taking a picture of a young boy with a gun can have the effect of reinforcing his authority and status thus making efforts for demobilization more difficult. Identity (and self-esteem) is often a serious problem for child soldiers and one of the causes that can have a catalyzing effect for their conscription. So in order not to jeopardize the work of agencies working for prevention, demobilization and psychosocial support of child soldier taking pictures of armed children should (must ?!?) be avoided.
Unfortunately it seems that even the most prominent agencies active in this sector do not hesitate to put big / full page pictures of child soldier on the covers of their material.
I wonder if this is just for a lack of attention or for "emotional exploitation"...
Thanks for taking the time to look at my photographic work and thanks for sharing your thoughts on photographing child soldiers. It is an issue that I have not given a great deal of consideration to as I have never photographed child soldiers. However, in my work, and in particular in one community that I work with in Ethiopia, I have a collection of photographs that include young boys/men with guns. However, in this community, guns are a means of protection against predators. Mostly, guns are used as protection against wild animals, for example, young buys can walk up to 7 kilometres to get to school, and may be walking alone in the dark, where they could (and have been) attacked by a pack of hyenas. The gun is their best chance of survival. The river we swim in and wash in (the only source of water for this community), has crocodiles. Often when people see these photos they exclaim how shocking or terrible it is to see young men with weapons. In these instances, however, this is simply not the case. The photographs of boys and men with guns depict an accurate representation of the community and lifestyle, of which guns are a part of, but not in the way that it is so often perceived.
In the cases that you are referring to with aid agencies using child soldiers as a full page campaign, I suspect that this is mostly to raise awareness. It surprises me that even in this day and age, with access to information and technology, that in fact, people are still often completely unaware of what happens elsewhere in the world. Generally speaking, I would agree with you that photographs of armed children who are (or have been) child soldiers should not be taken or used. If this is going to cause harm to children as individuals, or jeopardize work of agencies, it definitely should not be done. However, as with anything, there are always exceptions to the rule. And there surely must be cases where there is more good than harm to be done by accurately representing harsh realities. Historically, photography has the power to change the face of wars and many major events and periods of history. This is, more often than not, through depicting harsh reality.
I guess everyone has a different viewpoint on different issues, and almost all issues in the international development sector are complicated and often need to be assessed on a case by case approach.
Anna thanks for your answer. I understand your points regarding your pictures and I would like to move the discussion on the need of protection of young. Shouldn't be a step of the development the rejection of weapons in any case and particularly for young boys (which is the first step to severe violence?). If there is a river with crocodile isn't better to dig a water point in the village and let crocodiles leave their life? Personally I've never seen people (apart from soldiers) on the shores of tanganika lake which is infested by crocodiles in some points, going to collect water with a gun... maybe it should part of your reflection to help these communities find other means of of solving their problems.
On the second part, raising awareness. "There is more good than arm" doesn't make any sense in my vocabulary if this bring any kind of a threat to a young boy.
It's not that we are showing a starving baby with the ultimate goal of trying to raise a money to save his life (see the posts below of M. that I find delicious to have an idea). We are also saying to everybody that this boy, formerly a soldier, took part in a conflict and either his part won or loose he his extremely vulnerable to retaliation of opponents. It is not only a problem of dignity and ethics and but it is a real protection threat.
The Irish NGO sector, led by the umbrella group Dochas www.dochas.ie (which I worked for up to last year), wrestled with and devised a Code of Conduct on Images and Messages for the sector that established a set of principles, guidelines, an implementation guide, FAQs, further resources, workshops and conferences, etc... See http://www.dochas.ie/code/resources.aspx
Acceptance of the Code is compulsory for Dochas network members and would-be members, and it has been endorsed by Irish Aid, giving it a bit more clout; adherence is gradually being monitored more rigorously, with mandatory reporting and a performance audit upping the ante
The emphasis has definitely been on images, especially photos, so far - but broader NGO/ humanitarian messaging is also worth more attention
So, "lots done, more to do" to borrow the mantra of an Irish political party (since shot down in flames) - and I thought it might contribute to the discussion…
and this is the recent National Price for Photojournalism in Spain...
just saw the pic yesterday in a local paper.....
this is a subject very dear to me as a social anthopologist and non-professional, documentary photographer.
I am kind of obsessed with representation and construction of the "Other" in general, and what it says about all actors involved :-)
The MSF campaign you can see around Spain since some time now caught my attention: Several famous people in Spain, part of pop culture (footbal players, actors, chefs) are shot looking very serious in B/W, showing to the viewer a box of pills. The box is red, MSF red.The box is neat in the front, while the person appears blurred in the back, as a recognizable ghost. The text reads something like "pills agains Other's pains" ("pastillas contra el dolor ajeno"). Its a box of mints with the shape of a box of medicines, that one can buy in pharmacies for 1 euro, contributing to MSF work.
I think its a very good campaign. They manage not to show any Brown Babies (for this only they deserve a price), to catch the eye of the passer by with pop culture icons to which they can identify easily, transcending any social and cultural divisions in the viewers, and making their target very wide, they don't make viewers impotent towards misery in the world, or guilty of not being dead and starving themselves, they remind of their mission which is based in medical aid and access to medicines, the price of the mint boxes in 1 euro only, and the esthetics is different, sober black and white, blurred and neat, with a bit of red in the middle, catches the eye immediately in the middle of flashy stupid colors that inundate our eyes everyday in cities.
It's a very nice one, thanks M.
It's a little bit different but I really loved this one below:
yes, ACF are good in communication. The one wth the fork accusing those responsible of famine is very good as well.
They communicate several messages with one image while avoiding the usual images of misery etc.
Yet, nor them nor any aid industry actor has succeded in doing more than palliative work towards misery and its manifestations.
And I'd still like to know how-and if-he impact of the advocacy side of work has been measured, and evaluated. The old ad mentioning the "affameurs" (the ones responsible for famine) and how ACF is also fighting against them (and "not only against famine") got my attention as intelligent, but, where are the reports on activities done on that front and their results?
Not that is is completely their fault, but I really think the aid industry should acknowledge its limits humbly (famine is not about food, health is not about medicines,you need to give yourselves the means of your ambitions e.g. hiring competent people and working with real budgets, and still, you will never end poverty or injustice), and concentrate in increasing the quality of their palliative work, instead of wanting to fight, clumsily -and somehow arrogantly-on all fronts.
Can we cite NGO names here?
When I was working for a Very Well Known British Children Charity in 2006 in Niger, the in-house visiting photographer and a Guardian (!) journalist looking for/predating for info/stereotypes on "motherhood" (whose article later made the news without problem...) didn't have any problem in stepping in the maternity ward of a local mini hospital inside the charity nutrition compound when a lady was giving birth, and photographing the silent act itself, just there, between her legs and around the room, the accomplice nurse so proud, without any consent from the lady or from me (Impotent Head of Office at that time). I stood outside, then came in when the nurse told the birth was over. Kind of ashamed, but I stepped in.
I later blogged about it, blogging as if in a cleansing ritual, form som much filth.
I don't know where the pics ended.
I just know the lady looked at us all (4 women), serious, before turning herself to the wall, just after giving birth, before even being given her baby in her arms. That no one was ashamed except me. That no one though about the woman's feelings. I was extremely angry and ashamed.
I really hope things have changed since 2006 in the Industry. But I will always remember that infamous incident (plus others, also from the Very Well Known British Children Charity), and still feel ashamed about me, being white and belonging to it, representing it, towards that woman.
I've been in these situations before, too. Where you just cringe and look away, ashamed at what you see your organization doing. It's hard sometimes to speak up. And there will always be that internal argument around some believing it's OK to sacrifice the dignity of one person to (supposedly) do a larger bit of good (eg, raise more funds or get more support from the public for x, y or z cause). And then there are others who don't even think to ask themselves whether it's OK or not.