Pictures & Perspective: Notes from East Africa

Stringer/ Reuters

“An aid worker using an iPad photographs the rotting carcass of a cow in Wajir, near the Kenya-Somalia border, on July 23, 2011. Since drought gripped the Horn of Africa, and especially since famine was declared in parts of Somalia…”

This picture says so much.

From the fancy shoes to the i-pad, it makes me wonder just how much people like him “relate” with such hardships. It says “objectifying” all over it. Like he’s a tourist, about to upload it to Instagram or something…

Groups of photographers unloaded from buses and swarmed the Kenya-Somalia refugee camps in July 2011, to cover the famine. You might remember some of the raw pictures of starving children.

but….none of them turned out like this.

this picture has more depth and and a deeper story we immediately get pulled into.

I know, this picture doesn’t look significant at first.

What’s the big deal? It’s the carcass of a dead cow.

Well, it has to do with perspective.

It has to do with our approach, and storytelling.

Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images

[For the sake of those with a weak stomach for such hard-hitting images (myself included), I’ll just post the link to other pictures. I found this news website to be well-balanced, with a range of picture styles, but you will still see what I am talking about in terms of human portaits. —–  http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/07/famine-in-east-africa/100115/  ]

I know it may sound odd, but I’m inspired as a photographer every time I see the the first picture.

Not the second. (child)

It’s not that there’s inherently anything “wrong” with the second picture. It’s a great portrait. It’s just that there’s more than one way to tell the story.

Pictures are a lot like words. Like writing.

If you always said the first thing that popped into your head….it might be “truthful”….but not always appropriate for the situation.

Like our words, there is a difference between immediately reacting to a situation’s intensity and intentionally gathering our thoughts.

Also, this hasn’t even breached the topic of “telling half the truth”. I won’t try to cover it, because it would take too long. Besides, I doubt I need to explain it.

In journalism — you may not necessarily be “hurting” the subject per say, if you choose to tell the story by attacking viewers emotions. But you aren’t telling the whole story.

Thousands of photographers went to cover the Kenya-Somalia famine in July of 2011.

So why was Stringer the only one who didn’t do the usual emotional appeal pictures? (extremely emaciated African babies)

Stringer reminds me to be bold, to think outside the lines, to not immediately objectify or stereotype a situation, to search for the whole truth, and to due justice in telling the whole story.

I think Stringer’s blog/video will help explain it more:

http://blogs.reuters.com/photographers-blog/2011/10/25/the-children-of-dadaab-life-through-the-lens/

Stringer says,

Through my video “The children of Dadaab: Life through the Lens” I wanted to tell the story of the Somali children living in Kenya’s Dadaab. Living in the world’s largest refugee camp, they are the ones bearing the brunt of Africa’s worst famine in sixty years.

I wanted to see if I could tell their story through a different lens, showing their daily lives instead of just glaring down at their ribbed bodies and swollen eyes.

It was a challenging project. As one senior photographer asked, how else can we tell the story without showing images that clearly illustrate the plight of the starving millions? Few photographs cover all aspects of life in the camps.

Let me know what you think.

Does the 1st picture compete with the second? Does it tell the story of starvation as clearly as the second?  (remember, starvation is the subject)

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Categories: Life Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Pictures & Perspective: Notes from East Africa

  1. Oh my goodness, I have laughed, cried, been stunned, been educated. What have you NOT done here?? I can’t think of anything . . .yet. I am entranced by your pictures and loved your joke about cameras and stoves. You may have an advantage over other studenst BECAUSE as a photographer, you totally get the “image logic” thing, and you know how to render it for your viewer. Thanks for a great read/view.

  2. To me the second picture is sad while the first picture is shocking. “What kind of animal is that,” I asked myself. “Cow” did not register on my brain. The very shell of it that was left told a horrific story of loss, death, and destruction.

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