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Imaging Famine

Imaging Famine

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Published by Paul Vincent
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Published by: Paul Vincent on Feb 21, 2013
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04/24/2013

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ImagingFamine
Somalia, 1992 Paul Lowe/Panos
 
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Band Aid 20. Live 8. Make Poverty History. The G8 Summit inGleneagles. 2005 is witnessing renewed debate about globalpoverty, disasters and development, especially in Africa.Coming two decades after the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s the time is ripe for a reconsideration of the power andpurpose of disaster pictures, given the way the images of theEthiopian famine spawned the original Band Aid/Live Aidphenomenon.The October 1984 BBC television report from Korem (filmed byMohamed Amin and reported by Michael Buerk) is renownedfor having drawn the world’s attention to the famine in Ethiopia.While it was not the first report of the issue, it is undoubtedlythe most famous. Its eight minutes of searing images movednews professionals and the public alike.This response was notuniversal — “not more starving Africans”, was the reaction of one network producer. However, another producer identifiedwhat gave the report its power, saying, “it was as if each clipwas an award-winning still photo”. As a result, some 425television stations around the world ran the report, reachinghundreds of millions of people.The media coverage of the Ethiopian famine was a watershedfor how aid agencies thought about images of disaster . TheFood and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nationsundertook an international study of the campaigns andcoverage (called Images of Africa) to see their effects on theEuropean public’s perception of Africa. Out of this came newcodes of practice for the use of pictures by non-governmentalorganisations (NGOs). Since then, reflections on the politics of photographic practice with regard to famine have been scantand the persistence of stereotypical images all too evident. Asa result, part of the Live Aid legacy has been the equation of famine with Africa and Africa with famine, reducing a continentof 57 countries, nearly 900 million people and numerousdisparate cultures to a single, impoverished place.
ImagingFamine
Mohamed Amin and Michael Buerk, Ethiopia, 1984 Camerapix
 
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The purpose of Imaging Famine is to reignite debateabout these issues. To achieve this, the exhibition hassix components:20 boards detailing themes that have af fected faminecoverage in recent decades;two photo essays from Sudan in 1998 by Paul Lowe andTomStoddart that contrast the work of photojournalists with thenews images on the boards;images from 19th and early 20th century famines to providehistorical context;a gallery of alternative images;interactive screens with interviews where academics, photog-raphers, picture editors and aid agency of ficials offer contrasting views on the main themes;a website with supplementary information —www.imaging-famine.orgThe exhibition and this catalogue do not claim to haveaddressed all the relevant issues, nor do they answer definitively the specific questions posed on the thematicboards. Neither do they present a manifesto on the correct useof images in the media. Instead,they aim to draw publicattention to issues that should animate debate among theproducers and consumers of disaster imagery and toencourage further reflection by all concerned.This cataloguediscusses some of the enduring concerns to give a flavour of the main parameters of the debate.Imaging Famine is an ongoing, web-based project andfeedback is encouraged. Please go to the website for contactdetails on how to submit comments www.imaging-famine.org
The Observer, July 14 1985 Photographer: Sebastiao

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