UN Europe’s MDG campaign images – political or stereotypical?

Posted 19 Sep 2010 — by davidc_7IF
Category Conventional imagery

UN Europe’s WeCanEndPoverty campaign was a competition for images to promote awareness of the Millennium Development Goals.

Stefán Einarsson, from Reykjavík, Iceland won the competition with this poster “We are still waiting”, calls on world leaders to live up to their promises of ending poverty by 2015.

Twenty-nine other works were also chosen as finalists, and Einarsson had another two posters amongst those. Each deployed the stereotypical child and disturbing ways, indicating the continuing power of this iconography.

Unsurprisingly, the manipulated image of President Obama as the stereotypical child has become controversial.

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.