Photojournalism, advocacy and change


 

The purpose of photojournalism and documentary photography, and how that purpose is discussed, remains a contentious area. A large part of that contention flows directly from the way the purpose is framed and debated. This was evident recently in the panel discussion on “The Photographer as Activist” at the World Press Photo Awards Days in … Continued

Kony2012, symbolic action and the potential for change


 

A week on from the “Kony 2012” video eruption, I want to take a step back and ask: what does this tells us about the media economy, what does it suggest about the state of activism, and how should we think about change in the face of global problems? I’m not going to add much … Continued

Imaging famine: How critique can help


 

What is the point of critique, and how can it help produce better visual stories? According to Jonathan Jones (writing in the Guardian on 22 July) all the sophisticated critiques of photojournalism are pointless when it comes to picturing famine: It seems shocking that commentators…wasted their breath on the ethics of a photograph instead of … Continued

Imaging famine: A debate


 

Last week’s post on ‘Famine iconography as a sign of failure‘ drew a very critical response from @foto8 on Twitter. I’ve again used Storify to collect the comments and offer a response to address the issues. Be sure to click on ‘Read More’ to see the whole stream. Further comments on this debate are welcome. … Continued

Thinking Images v.20: Famine iconography as a sign of failure


 

The homogenisation of ‘Africa’ – the rendering of the continent into one form. The anthropomorphisation of ‘Africa’ – the representation of the continent as one person. The infantilisation of ‘Africa’ – the image of the continent as a child. The impoverishment of ‘Africa’ – the construction of the continent as a desperate, poor, passive victim. … Continued

Thinking Images v.17: The starving child as symbolic marker


 

Contemporary news photographs are chosen less for their descriptive function and more for their capacity to provide symbolic markers to familiar interpretations and conventional narratives. Although news images can illustrate the story they accompany, it is often the case that the photograph published with a story does not depict the specifics of that story. This … Continued

Thinking Images v.14: Looking for agents not victims in Congo


 

  Paula Allen’s photograph of the women who helped build a centre for rape survivors in Bukavu, eastern Congo, is a bold depiction that combines celebration and power. As the double-page lead to Katherine Viner’s story on the City of Joy project in Saturday’s Guardian Weekend magazine, Allen’s photograph departs from much of the conventional reportage of … Continued

Thinking Images v.13: Target Libya


 

More than 100 newspaper front pages are running Goran Tomasevic’s photographs of the airstrikes on Libya. These scans have been made and circulated today by Thomson Reuters, and demonstrate how particular images attract the eye of picture editors around the world. His most featured photograph shows “a bomb from an allied aircraft explod[ing] among vehicles … Continued

The Back Catalogue (1): Representing ‘Africa’


 

Welcome to “The Back Catalogue,” the first in an occasional series of themed posts… I’ve been actively writing online for nearly three years now, and one of the challenges of the blog format is how to keep old posts with content that is potentially still relevant from slipping off the radar. And because this site combines … Continued

Thinking Images v.9: Egypt, revolution and the internet


 

Thinking Images – an occasional series on some of the week’s visuals and the thoughts they prompt… Hundreds of thousands of protestors have returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square demonstrating that the demand for change in Egypt is as strong as ever. Today the scene has been peaceful, but two weeks of extensive coverage from a corps of … Continued

Thinking Images v.7: Sudan’s politics in pictures


 

Thinking Images – an occasional series on some of the week’s visuals and the thoughts they prompt… Sudan faces a momentous week beginning Sunday 9 January. A referendum in the south, mandated as part of the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement, could lead to the division of the country and the creation of a new state. Voting will … Continued

Thinking Images v.5: Picturing a protest and illustrating ‘Africa’


 

Thinking Images – an occasional series on a small selection of the week’s visuals and the thoughts they prompt… The vast majority of news photographs are illustrative – designed to provide a visual punctuation point for the story they accompany. They can arise from an event the day before, as in Thursday’s Guardian front page image of … Continued

Has concerned photography a future? Photojournalism, humanitarianism, responsibility


 

For a long time I have argued that ‘photojournalism’ – that broad swathe of photographic practice that tells visual stories about the world, and which can include documentary, editorial, news or social photography – has a particular responsibility and a particular opportunity to both represent the world better and make better worlds imaginable. It is … Continued

Stereotypes that move: The iconography of famine


 

As appropriations of suffering, photographs of famine victims are affective rather than simply illustrative. They are designed to appeal emotionally to viewers and connect them with subjects in a particular way rather than just offer a description of some person or place. The message is that someone is suffering, and that we should be sympathetic … Continued

Thinking Images v.1: Chile, Africa and British students


 

Thinking Images – an occasional series on a small selection of the week’s visuals and the thoughts they prompt… You would have to a cold-hearted person not to have been moved in some way at some time by the rescue of the Chilean miners. But there are always other dimensions to such stories. During the … Continued

The new visual stories of ‘Africa’


 

What is the visual story that needs to be told about Africa? Is there a pictorial strategy that can account for one billion people, living in 53 countries that occupy 12 million square miles, speaking two thousand languages, embodying multiple cultures and numerous ethnicities, with manifold intersections with our globalised world? Would we even ask … Continued

Famine photographs and the need for careful critique


 

The photographic reporting of famine, especially in ‘Africa’, continues to replicate stereotypes. Malnourished children, either pictured alone in passive poses or with their mothers at hand, continue to be the obvious subjects of our gaze. What should drive our concern about this persistent portrayal? This morning I came across an example that demonstrates how criticism … Continued

Visualising ‘Africa’: moving beyond ‘positive versus negative’ photographs


 

A disaster. A lone child. Barefoot. In a barren landscape. The apparent absence of social structures. This photograph recycles all the main elements in the dominant representation of ‘Africa’. As James Ferguson writes in his important book Global Shadows, “for all that has changed, ‘Africa’ continues to be described through a series of lacks and … Continued

How does the media persuade us to give to charities?


 

In “Please Give Generously” – an excellent documentary broadcast on BBC Radio 4 this weekend – Fergal Keane examined the relationship between charities and the media, in which charities want to raise their profile as well as money, the media needs stories, and both traffic in drama. Britain is home to 166,000 charities that last … Continued

How photographs make Darfur mean something


 

The relationship between photographs and text in the construction of political understanding is often complex and frequently unclear. Although news photographs regularly present themselves as windows illustrating the world, the articles, captions and headlines with which they are associated can bind them into meanings at odds with both their pictorial content and the accompanying textual … Continued

Aid images, and the solution offered by local photographers


 

Some visual strategies are remarkably persistent, and few more persistent than those employed by humanitarian aid organizations when illustrating their appeals and campaign literature. We documented this in relation to food shortages in Africa as part of the Imaging Famine project. You know the pictures without even seeing them – the photographs of mothers and … Continued