Changing the Face of Poverty
In the UK NGOS, and the media more widely, have created the enduring image of ‘The Poor’. ‘The Poor’ are often portrayed as a child. This child will be ubiquitously African and will be thin and big-bellied with flies dancing around their eyes. This image is created over and over again. The UK public now finds it difficult to see ‘The Poor’ as anything more than a victim. This media creation has resulted in images devoid of any dignity or grace. ‘The Poor’ are dehumanised and people in the UK desensitised to the horror that fills newspaper pages and television screens. When did we become a people that seek the shock factor as if it were a kind of pornography? Images of skeletal women desperate to feed their babies become evening teatime entertainment. As journalists when we write, take a photograph or shoot some film we hold power. We are entrusted with someone’s story and this is a great privilege indeed.
I see one of my biggest challenges I want to tackle in my global community as the need to move Western NGO journalism from voyeuristic to participatory. Why do the media still largely treat those living in poverty as voiceless and helpless? I would argue that there is a fear amongst Western NGOs that if we take away the image of the African/Asian/Latin American victim we will also take away vital funding. I do not think this needs to be the case. When people are enabled and empowered powerful stories can be crafted and images of hope found in the darkest of situations.
My personal mission is to challenge the way NGOs portray those they serve. I am working with a number of NGOs in the UK (all who work internationally) and am exploring the ways we can enable the most disadvantaged in our world to participate actively in defining how they want their story told… how they want to be seen. I am doing this in a number of ways. Firstly through developing participatory photography training in Southern countries like Malawi with NGO Tearfund. Secondly I am campaigning against overly negative portrayals of others with The Global Poverty Project. Finally; I have been promoting the Visual Peacekeepers code of conduct as a photographer and writer. I am always trying to seek truth, beauty and dignity in all images I create and stories I write.
Being connected to so many beautiful and unique voices from around the world through PulseWire will enable me to explore how people want to be seen and how they feel their culture and identity is perceived by the rest of the world. I can to explore ways we can build methods of participation in the NGO community. I think one of the best ways to investigate this theme is through meaningful exchange with others! To me the biggest resource PulseWire has is its stories. We can exchange many things but should never underestimate the power of exchanging our words.