New Internationalist

The return of the poster child

Issue 383

The use of emotive images, particularly of children in distress, to raise funds has long been a contentious issue. They ignore the context and exploit the subject. The children appear as passive and helpless – and, by extension, so do the societies in which they live. Gut reactions replace explanations of causes and consequences. But these images also increase the response from donors. A decade ago they were used with restraint. They have begun to appear again, most recently around the threat of famine in Niger. Here are some examples, taken from newspapers and websites in July and August. The question is why we still respond to them.

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  1. #1 BigRedLondon 14 Jul 11

    A dear friend, who grew up in Eritrea in the 1970s, told me that the very worst thing about the years of war and famine were the cameras; both still and television cameras and the self-serving arrogance of those behind them, irrespective of whether they were taking images of adults or children. My friend's family is wealthy so he was never hungry but he is human.
    What makes anyone think that it is a right to see the suffering of others anonymously and seondhand? Are we really so cynical as to believe only the evidence of our eyes?

  2. #2 Azra 19 Jul 11

    We need to ask ourselves - would we like it is people photographed us when we were the most vulnerable? I think not! Photographers themselves need to become sensitive about how they depict the problem. Taking pictures of distressed children is the easy way out and does not challenge the photographer to portray the reality but respect the individuals who are affected by that reality.

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This article was originally published in issue 383

New Internationalist Magazine issue 383
Issue 383

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