Electrification in Ghana

Posted 25 Aug 2010 — by davidc_7IF
Category Alternative visuals

Peter DiCampo’s multimedia story on the lack of electrification in northern Ghana is a compelling account of an important story, all the more so because of the way it makes the voices and views of those affected central. By giving subjects their agency it let’s us see a problem in a way that doesn’t affirm negative stereotypes.

Life Without Lights from Peter DiCampo on Vimeo.

Year-round in Ghana, the sun sets at 6pm and rises at 6am – thus, the residents of communities lacking electricity live half of their lives in the dark. Over ten years ago, the government of Ghana began a massive campaign to provide the country’s rural north with electricity, but the project ceased almost immediately after it began. The work sluggishly resumes during election years, as candidates attempt to garner popularity and votes. But at present, an estimated 73% of villages remain without electricity in the neglected north – an area comprising 40% of the country.

How photography can construct poverty

Posted 23 Jun 2010 — by davidc_7IF
Category Alternative visuals, Conventional imagery

Duncan McNicholl, a member of Engineers Without Borders Canada  — as African Programs Staff on the Water and Sanitation (WatSan) team, based in Malawi — has started an interesting project that highlights how photography constructs poverty.

He explains the context:

We’ve all seen it: the photo of a teary-eyed African child, dressed in rags, smothered in flies, with a look of desperation that the caption all too readily points out.  Some organization has made a poster that tells you about the realities of poverty, what they are doing about it, and how your donation will change things.

I reacted very strongly to these kinds of photos when I returned from Africa in 2008.  I compared these photos to my own memories of Malawian friends and felt lied to.  How had these photos failed so spectacularly to capture the intelligence, the laughter, the resilience, and the capabilities of so many incredible people?

And he outlines his approach:

I am taking two photos of the same person; one photo with the typical symbols of poverty (dejected look, ripped clothes, etc.), and another of this person looking their very finest, to show how an image can be carefully constructed to present the same person in very different ways.  I want to bring to light some of the different assumptions we make about a person, especially when we see an image of “poverty” from rural Africa.  So far, I have finished two sets in the series and I want to share them with you to get reactions and hopefully generate some discussion around this in the early stages of this project.

As one of the commenters on McNichol’s blog noted, we have to recognise that both the images of poverty and relative prosperity in this project are ‘staged’. We might also want to ask whether this contrast is simply replicating the simple negative vs. positive frame for understanding images that in the end doesn’t escape the power of stereotypes. However, the contrast between the two constructions is still something worth thinking about.