Save the Children – 2022: a year in pictures and the stories behind them

2022 A Year in Pictures

I love this video and microsite about Save the Children’s 30 favourite photos from 2022 which aims to show that children were not passive victims or simply observers.

Some wonderful insights from the photographers of how they went about capturing these images. I’ve heard of a few of the photographers from EveryDay Africa, but would love to see more of the other photographers work. It’s a shame each photographer did not have a hyperlink to their potfolios.

But this is a minor criticism of a fantastic campaign. Well done Save the Children.

OVEREXPOSED – should images of children be used in charity fundraising?

Chance for Childhood is a relatively small charity with an income of just less the £1million. The first time I heard of the charity was when they recently launched their #OverExposed campaign which “seeks to reframe thinking and create better practices and policies around child-centred imagery and storytelling.” As part the campaign they have taken the decision to remove identifiable features of children from imagery and video footage, including removing children’s faces from all fundraising campaigns.

The campaign was launched at the House of Lords (I’m not sure how this was achieved?) and is also supported by David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham and Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.

David is no stranger to debates around charity imagery and accused Comic Relief of White Saviourism when they sent Strictly Come Dancing winner and journalist Stacey Dooley to Uganda to document some of their programming work. Like David, I applaud the decision by Chance for Childhood to remove images of children from their fundraising appeals, but can you solve ethical storytelling by simply removing children’s faces? I suppose it’s a start.

The narrator in the launch video, who is anonymised, asks 4 questions:

  1. What is a segmented, multi-channel donation campaign?
  2. Why is my picture on social media profiles that aren’t mine?
  3. Why is it ok for my image to be published all over the internet, when most parents would not allow it?
  4. Is that ok? Is that ethical? Is that fair?

I like the video, and a great deal of effort has been put into this campaign. The House of Lords launch, support from a prominent MP and the establishment of a resource hub which includes an introductory webinar and five videos:

  1. How do we centre children’s rights and well-being in our stories?
  2. What is informed consent and what are the challenges we face?
  3. Using positive strength-based language in our work
  4. Reducing the risks of telling stories online
  5. How does power impact the collection and usage of stories and images of children?

I confess I haven’t watched the five videos but I did watch the hour long webinar which is chaired by Chance for Childhood staff member Lucy who leads a discussion with Grace and Felicien from Rwanda, and Bokey from Kenya. It’s worth watching and I won’t go into too much detail here but I will just raise a few questions and comments. Firstly, Lucy says that they launched the campaign as “no one is having a public conversation”. This is a bit odd as the Resource Hub Introduction document references “three key guides” – the Dignified Storytelling Handbook, Putting the People in the Picture First: Ethical Guidelines for Collection and Use of Content and DOCHAS Code of Conduct on Images and Messages. Considering that the DOCHAS Code of Conduct was written in 2014, I would say this discussion has been going on some time! I don’t deny the #OverExposed campaign comes from a good place, but the focus seems very much like an overt piece of PR for Chance for Childhood.

For me, one of the strongest statements in the webinar is from Grace, who is a former refugee in Rwanda who says “they take pictures of our pain”. Another statement that resonated with me was from Bokey who is the founder of Glad’s House Kenya. Bokey says that there are two problems trying to stop organisations using images of children: locally people believe negative imagery gives them priority to funding to alleviate the situation and secondly, international donors want to see the situation to justify the needs to send funds. Bokey has also written a blog post “Real change only comes if INGO or International donors don’t ask for photos”. In the blog Bokey says:

The world is smaller now. You can easily lose control of the image you share, and it can be used somewhere else…That image will haunt them forever. Children will be defined for the rest of their lives by a moment in time.

On the whole I think this campaign (like the others before) is an important addition to the discussions around protecting the dignity of “distant others”. Removing children’s faces is a start, but more needs to be done to improve agency and ensuring that children know their rights when people ask to take their pictures. In the webinar Grace says

We no longer say giving a voice to the voiceless because we all know there are no voiceless, there are people who are given the support to speak up.

INGOs must think about how they will give that support for people to speak up!

One small last criticism of this campaign – if your policy is to remove identifiable features of children you really should go back and delete old photos from social media too – there are still lots there….

Radi-Aid Research

I was recently the lead researcher for a study in collaboration with Radi-Aid about the use of imagery in charity / NGO communications.  In the study, participants in six Sub-Saharan African countries spoke about their perceptions of aid campaigns and other visual communications from international NGOs (INGOs) and development organisations.

The research involved 74 people from 12 focus groups in aid-receiving communities in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia. They discussed imagery from campaigns by Amnesty International, Care International, Cordaid, The Disasters Emergency Committee, Dubai Cares, Oxfam, Save the Children, Unicef and War Child.

Key findings from the study include:

• The majority of respondents thought the images in adverts offer an accurate representation of the situation in Africa.
• There is a need for aid communication to show more diversity in terms of age and race.
• Respondents acknowledge that aid communication is complex, with no single solution.
• It is important that respect and dignity is preserved in the portrayal of people in aid communication.

The frequent portrayal of Africa as a continent in need prompted sadness among the respondents in the study. Such campaigns often depict black children in need, and several of the respondents wished that these stories could be complemented by showing children of other colours or backgrounds, or black doctors, professors or aid workers. They would like to see portrayals of people with agency in their own situations and results of their accomplishments.

I was extremely pleased to be part of this research as it gives people in aid receiving countries the opportunity to voice their opinions on the type of imagery used to depict their continent. Instead of stigmatising poverty and focusing on problems, I hope that aid organisations will respond by showing the positive outcomes of development programmes too.

One of the things I often discuss with students, academics and communications professionals is that development organisations produce a massive amount of  communications materials, and the vast majority of them are neglected in critiques by the media and academia. Social media offers organisations the opportunity to tell more nuanced and contextualised stories which are not restricted by an expensive 15-30 TV adverting slot or a billboard with limited space. I hope this report will encourage NGOs and charities to continually improve their representations of poverty and inequality by showing a broader range of stories. Participatory photography and video are excellent tools to enable recipients of aid to tell their own stories and I see these tools being used more and more in the future.

Here is a link to the full Radi-Aid Research report.

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Radi-Aid Research is a collaboration project between the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH) and the School of International Development at the University of East Anglia.

 

Photography and Development – An interview with EveryDay Mumbai

I’m off to Mumbai next week to speak at a Conference on Social Media for Development, Innovation and Freedom. During my research I came across Everyday Mumbai and spent hours looking at some of the wonderful images that creator Chirag Wakaskar has curated finding the right accounting courses. So I contacted Chirag to ask him a few questions:

What inspired you to start @everydaymumbai

Back when I started this project (6th July 2014) there were probably very few working photographers from India on it and the pictures on the medium were mostly the typical oversaturated fluff of sunsets understanding pay stubs, mountains, beaches etc but there were a few western photojournalists on the medium sharing some interesting work and while I was on it with moderate success perhaps because photojournalism based content is not as popular in India as something that provides a much more departure from daily dreary lives such as a beautiful sunset or your favourite celebrity having fun is (I guess). I loved what @everydayafrica was doing and thought of having something on similar lines but since there weren’t really a lot of photographers around that I knew personally I decided on a curated platform rather than a collaboration. There was also a thought in the back of my mind of seeing the city through local eyes, which included a lot of non professional photographers who also contribute to the project. When it comes to incidents of violence, criminal charges in Denver area lawyers are there to help.

How do you select which images to curate? Are there certain issues that you deliberately focus on e.g. I noticed that there are many images documenting the LGBT community in Mumbai and also on pollution. What is the motivation for highlighting certain issues?

I generally look at photographs which have something to say beyond the visual. I often feel many times images of such issues are sidelined in mainstream media in India which is more focused around political news, celebrities and sports coverage. Even Instagram is primarily dominated by Bollywood & vanity. I hope to make space for highlighting various issues and making a strong case for photographers who document such issues.

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Do you think that @everydaymumbai can be used as a tool for development? If so, how?

I would like to think it can be used as a ‘model’ in Boston OUI lawyers because it reaches an audience through a medium that is easily accessible to them so that they can understand or know a little more than they usually would. I would love to see communities self documenting to better understand for themselves as well as others. I’ve actually written a guide and put it up on the website so that someone who wants to start off a project like this would know how to go about it. It can be found here – http://www.everydaymumbai.com/how-to-start-your-own-everyday-project-on-instagram-by-chirag-wakaskar/

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Have you ever been contacted by local government or NGOs about your work?

I have never been contacted by government. A couple of times NGO’s have reached out to share something. Though I have often proactively shared something I think would help share a good message or help someone out.

You mostly provide quite detailed supporting text – how long does this take?

The credit is all to the photographers. I will often egg them on to write more in terms of either jouralistic captions or even what they may think about what they have photographed. I also share with them resources such as  caption methodology such as AP or NPR so that they can get an idea as well or even some photography resources that I have found helpful. I maintain a small database of articles Ive liked – http://www.everydaymumbai.com/resources/

You receive lots of comments on the images that you curate. How long does it take for you to maintain the Instagram account?

I share just one photograph a day after looking at the hashtag and usually will message the photographer if I need to have any more details included. I have notifications off except for comments so that something inappropriate doesnt pass through. I’m generaly quite liberal in terms of comments and even with negative feedback but never outright for any hatred, lewdity, violence, etc

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Do you know if any of the photographers that work you curate have received photography commissions as a result?

This is a difficult one for me to quantify, but I do share the work of lot of young photographers with the hope that journalists, editors, curators who follow the project will commision them work or perhaps write articles about them particularly when they have some projects, exhibits, books & so on.

What is next for @everydayMumbai

I’m currently working on creating an offline exhibit in public spaces so that a wider audience can reached, particularly those who may not be on social media or even the internet. I’m also looking to reach out to mariganlized communities to help train them to document themselves and create social media based projects like these for their communities so more people can know about them.

Thank you Chirag for such an interesting and inspirational interview. I can’t wait to see some of the projects working with marginalised communities.

UNDP Kenya – Development Photography Project

I stumbled across the following tweet from UNDP Kenya back in March which alerted me to their fantastic new photography initiative.

Intrigued as to why they had commissioned three photographers to document their work I contacted Ngele Ali, their Head of Communications.

Why did you decide to document development in Kenya using photography? What informed the decision to commission this work was that, while we were telling our story and reporting about the impact of our work, the country office lacked compelling images of Kenya and Kenyans that could enrich our narrative. Our main aim was to document the breadth of development with authentic imagery that form part of our photography library. We deliberately went out to photograph and get stories informed by the SDGs, while exploring thematic areas aligned to UNDP work in Kenya such as: inclusivity, gender equality and youth empowerment, climate change, devolved governance, technology for development among others. We therefore went out in search of empowering stories and images of ordinary Kenyans at grassroots level who were doing remarkable work of transforming their lives and lifting themselves out of poverty; with the hope of giving the term development a face and to demystify the concept of leaving no one behind. We leveraged photography as a tool for storytelling taking inspiration from Andrew Defrancesco, to capture everyday lives of people, their personal perspective and achievements, that sometimes words don’t do justice. With images gathered from this mission we hope to build a library that is rich with a wide spectrum of powerful images encompassing of genuine human interest stories that may inform how we perceive and communicate on development matters and help shape our future interventions and interactions with Kenyan communities.

How long did the project take and how did you choose the locations?

This was a month-long mission where three Kenyan professional photographers were commission to work with the country team comprising of staff drawn from programme and communications departments. To capitalize on the time available, and to ensure we had images back in good time for various activities that were in the pipeline, the teams went out to the field simultaneously covering all the counties including those where UNDP has project on the ground. The idea of this project was to inclusively cover Kenya as wide as possible beyond our project areas as a forward-looking opportunity to scope for possible areas of future engagement and to ensure that we have a good collection of images that represent the face of Kenya in consideration to the fact that UNDP works with state and non-state institutions at national and sub-national levels.

Tell us why you chose the three photographers you commissioned?

The three were shortlisted from a competitive process that had invited photographers working in Kenya to submit their portfolios and proposed costs to undertake the assignment. The three were shortlisted from a pool of photographers following a rigorous review of portfolios based on experience of working on similar projects; demonstrated understanding of what was required of the assignment and knowledge of the terrain; and samples of work submitted.

How many photographs were taken?

Approximately 2000 final photos were submitted.

What is your favourite photograph and why?

Each photo has a unique story behind it but I particularly love photos from the marginalised communities as they are not the usual photos of abject poverty. The images that we got back paint a picture of hope, abundance and highlighting communities and people making a difference in a dignified and positive way. They are images that authentically celebrates Kenyan communities and their way of being.

What kind of supporting information did you capture for case study and caption material? Did this take a long time?

Information gathered was contextualised based on personal accounts and covered issues of livelihoods, family, future ambition, employment, state of being among others, which helped to frame each photograph in a unique way. This process was rigorous as it also included getting consent of the people we were photographing; The conversations were either written or recorded and later transcribed. Upon return to work it took at least another roughly four weeks for colleagues to complete captioning after the photographers made their final submissions. UNDP teams also submitted detailed back to work reports which is a standard requirement.

How will you be sharing the photographs with the people in the pictures?

We had release forms where we recorded details of the people being photographed. For those who expressed that they would like us to share with them the photos we will make necessary arrangements to do so – either directly or through our partner organisations working in those locations. Majority of those photographed were happy and satisfied to view their photos on screen after the sessions before we departed from location.

How do you plan to use the photographs?

The photos taken form part of the UNDP country office library; we intend to use these photos to support our conversations with regards to the development agenda in Kenya. This will be in our programmatic reports, annual report, factsheets, website, among others. None of the photos will be used for commercial purposes. The photos are also available for other UNDP/UN offices, development partners and donors upon request as long as they are credited accordingly.

Will you be using social media to share these images? If so, on what platforms?

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Exposure

What kind of problems did you encounter on the project?

Getting instant buy in to participate. Our teams spent a lot of time explaining what we were doing in some cases the people we encountered were not as friendly while others demanded payment for their participation. It took a while for members of the public to warm up to us and we only worked with people who were willing to participate freely. Working with local contacts helped in breaking the ice and gaining trust.

Language barrier – while Kiswahili is widely spoken across Kenya, in some remote areas, language was a hindrance and we heavily relied on local translators.  The distances between locations could be gruesome and exhausting especially in remote areas where the road network is not so good.

Are there any recommendations for other development organisations who might want to do something similar?

Logistics and planning is critical prior to the start of the project to ensure that your teams are well prepared and any concerns and questions are covered before departure to the field as helps in ensuring that all are working from the same perspective for desired results. We planned for this mission for at least 3 weeks before teams left the Nairobi office.

Always seek consent of the people you want to involve in your project. Taking a few minutes to explain the purpose of your mission and how you intend to use their images helps with members of the public feeling valued and the result is more enriching.
Work with professional photographers – professional photographers are a major asset for this type of assignment engage and work with them as part of your team. Let them understand your approach prior to the start of the project as this ensures that they understand what is expected of them and can deliver better results.

Give people an opportunity to tell and share their stories without influencing their thoughts. People feel appreciated and respected when allowed to tell their stories without the pressure to skew the narrative to suit your perspective.
Always take time to clarify any information provided and ensure it is as factual as possible. Request to use a voice recorder which you can play back when transcribing for clarity and ask the local fixer/contact for further clarification when in doubt.