Read the article ‘Seeing and Believing’ written by Max Houghton for Foto8.
The article discusses the role of the media in the developing world. The press are frequently commissioned by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to report and record humanitarian issues in the third world . Whilst the images of human suffering and strife inevitably provoke pity , they also help perpetuate a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ who are portrayed as stereotypical helpless victims. Because the NGO’s act as fixers at grass roots level for journalists and photographers this can cause unintentional bias due to the unavoidable fact that the media “are viewing “the other” through the NGO prism”.
Following Live Aid a code of conduct suggested by a group of NGO’s in 1989 to give more considered thought to how others are perceived was never formally undertaken. Photojournalist Paul Lowe makes the valid point that without indigenous photographers only a Western point of view will ever be seen , perpetuating the pessimistic imagery of ‘the other’. Lowe believes in teaching local photographers skills that will enable them to document their own environment truthfully without a Western slant.
Select two bodies of work from Eight Ways to Change the World that show different conceptual and visual styles and write a short reflective commentary in your learning log. Both bodies of work should be in colour . Discuss aspects like information , aesthetics and expression.
Core resources: Panos8ways.pdf
A target date of 2015 was set by the United Nations in 2000 to tackle Eight Millennium Development Goals in underdeveloped countries.Panos pictures, in collaboration with British charities , presented an exhibition Eight Ways to Change the World challenging world leaders to implement the promises they made. Seven Panos photographers documented the actuality of what the goals meant to the people who they were aimed at helping. The exhibition coincided with a summit meeting of UN leaders in 2005 to review progress of the Development plan.
The photographs of women taken by Vitale are close up and intimate, written information accompanies each photograph.
Vitale’s images of mothers with their babies do not reduce her subjects to the ‘other’ but are tender and gentle, indicative of maternal pride , love , and protection. A sleeping and content baby lies on his mothers legs being massaged with turmeric (see here) whilst a mother with her newborn baby , lit by candlelight (see here) becomes a modern day study of a Madonna and child.These images celebrating new life and motherhood symbolise an optimistic future , something all mothers and children , regardless of race , deserve , and what the goals are intended to provide.
However whilst the images record the positive consequences of providing adequate maternal care the narrative indicates that there is still a long way to go before maternal health and child mortality are acceptably reduced in this region of the world.
Nelson’s images are conceptually different from Vitale’s intimate images but again written information accompanies each image so the context can be easily understood.
A half bowl of begged shrivelled fruit (see here) perhaps someones only meal , and a handful of lentils that we are informed might have been bought on credit , convey poverty and hunger despite the lack of any human subject in the frame. Old and grubby looking cooking pots sit on hard barren ground (here ) the connotations of hardship are quite clear without being over sentimental or harrowing.
We are informed the hard manual work at a brick factory is poorly paid but frequently the only source of income. A woman sits on a mound of bricks whilst a small boy , I assume her son, holds onto her shoulder. To the back and at the other side , slightly out of focus , another woman is sat , whilst behind her a corrugated hut runs the length of the frame , out of which more women and another child look directly at the viewer ( see here) unlike Vitale’s images of motherhood these highlight the harsh reality of life for the working women and their young children in order to survive. Three unsmiling men , one to the forefront , gaze directly out of the frame , (here) its easy to imagine their exhaustion working for a pittance. Clearly the goal of eradicating hunger and poverty has not been attained as Nelson’s images testify.
The use of colour makes both bodies of work contemporary and relevant. Whilst Nelson’s images are less optimistic than those taken by Vitale both document present day inequalities that are still waiting for the action promised to achieve it.