The stereotype of the ‘African’ child

Posted 21 Jun 2010 — by davidc_7IF
Category Conventional imagery

Images of impoverished children are regularly associated with stories about both ‘Africa’ and famine, even if the issue of famine in question is not specifically or only related to ‘Africa’.

In this recent business story (June 2010) about the relationship between the demand for biofuels and rising food prices, a naked child with distended belly represents the threat for famine. (Interestingly, the on-line version of the story was illustrated with a photograph of Somali’s protesting rising prices in 2008).

A stereotype is something preconceived or oversimplified that is constantly repeated without change. Stereotypes involve icons, which are figures that represent events or issues. Icons have a sacred history but the attention they attract as objects of our gaze can produce a range of affects depending on time and place. The photographic deployment of particular icons (children) via an established aesthetic to represent famine is a clear example of stereotypes at work.

Here is another stereotypical photo from The Guardian on 30 September 2009:


This photograph was used to illustrate a story headlined “By 2050, 25m more children will go hungry as climate change leads to food crisis.

The caption reads: “A malnourished boy at a feeding centre in Ethiopia. Sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia will be most vulnerable to food shortages, the IFPRI report found. Photograph: Jose Cendon/AFP/Getty Images.”

Starved for Attention – malnutrition in context?

Posted 14 Jun 2010 — by davidc_7IF
Category Alternative visuals, Context and Analysis

Starved for Attention, the collaboration between MSF and VII to draw attention to the problem of endemic malnutrition, attempts to put the issue in context.

In an interesting interview, Marcus Bleasdale (at 02:52) remarks:

As a photojournalist I’ve been as guilty as anybody else in fuelling this stereotypical image of the starving child in Africa, and one of the great things about this project was that it allowed us to concentrate on the larger picture, it allowed us to concentrate on, not just malnutrition itself, but the reasons behind it and the people that are dealing with it…

Whether the project succeeds in its aims remains to be seen, largely because only two of the planned stories are currently available, though all should be online by mid-July.

We await the others with interest, and hope to do a review of the project when it is complete.