Here we go, again. Images of emaciated children and families are gracing newspaper headlines. Often, these images depict a distressed mother holding a dying child; a lone child in search of charity; or skeletal, distraught figures, in despair and loss.
You may call them pornographic. Disrespectful. Undignified. They’re making appearances in major news outlets like the New York Times.
I love photography, but I hate the way it is misused, especially when legitimized and justified by aid and charity.
I love the ability of pictures to capture moments and assign them grammar that transcend linguistic barriers. Images evoke emotions that words could only explain. They enable the viewer to identify with the larger issue at hand by facilitating a personal connection with the subjects in the frame. And, hopefully extend that link to the pocketbook.
I hate the misuse and abuse of images, like the fact that most of the pictures we consume are probably taken without the consent of the subject. Imagine that. Would you allow someone to take a picture of you when you are in a spiritual and physical crisis? Really, would you?
These images also frame and shape perceptions. For example, when you see an image of a lone child, with sunken eyes and in the company of flies, it’s easy to assume that the child is alone. Abandoned. That is often far from the truth. There is usually a distraught mother or father nearby, offering what they can of their unconditional reserve of internal resources: love, comfort, touch, and care.
Not only do these images frame perceptions about that child, they also shape perceptions about that community…those people…that country. The emaciated child/person transcends his or her individual experience and becomes a macroscopic symbol for need, depravity, and loss, speaking for one and all at the same time. Please see my blog entitled The Price of a Single Story for more.
Finally, let’s be honest, we wouldn’t want pictures of us taken when we are having a bad day, wearing an unflattering outfit, or feeling down. So, why would we think otherwise for others? Yes, famine kills. Yes, the situation is harrowing. Yes, people need to be moved to give. Yes, pictures are an important part of the story. But, that doesn’t give you the right to deny others their dignity and humanity. Some things remain priceless.
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