Sunday, 10 May 2015

Imaging Famine–and other disasters

In this exercise we are asked to find examples that either illustrate or challenge the issues highlighted in the catalog which accompanied the Imaging Famine Exhibition:

There’s probably enough material available to use this discussion as the basis for a detailed thesis – indeed Caroline McNally appears to have done just that -  but in the context of this exercise I’m going to cover the area quite briefly.

Victim stereotyping

The imaging famine website gives a number of examples which it essentially suggests are a continuation of the old practise of fly-blown children, crying mothers as representatives of famine images, and while this is true to a point I think the difference between the examples that it gives and earlier examples of the same are quite marked – not least in that the level of dignity afforded the subjects seems to be increasing. The same does not appear to hold true for disaster victims with images of bloated and decaying corpses being readily available through the internet and the associated media outlets.

Location, location, location

A particularly noticeable issue is the difference in treatment between what might be termed developed and less developed countries – so for example Google searches of the Banda Aceh tsunami and  the Haiti earthquake rapidly reveal large numbers of bodies and people in dire straits, while a similar search for the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami reveals almost exclusively pictures of physical damage. There are clearly significant differences – a 10x greater death toll in the former two events for example and better access in the Japanese example – but it is certainly possible to make an argument that 3rd world victims are still photographed differently to 1st world victims.

Positive or Negative

This seems to be an area where charities at least have become more sophisticated since the exhibition – a quick examination of charity websites e.g Oxfam or Christian Aid will reveal that images now frequently show local people engaged in helping themselves, or pitching in with the relief agencies – begging bowls are noticeable by their absence for the most part.

A number of other controversies also crop up, including the role of celebrity photos in crisis situations and the sheer volume of entirely repetitive images as a result of the saturation of disaster areas with world media .

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