Is photojournalism perpetuating stereotypes in humanitarian crisis zones?

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An Australian university is leading a collaboration between industry experts and academic institutions to examine how powerful press images can affect the application of international aid.

Liberian
Photo: Grainger Laffan

Professor Bleiker from the University of Queensland will lead the project team that will include scholarly experts in international relations, psychology, photojournalism, marketing and policy analysis from three universities plus four industry partners.

He said: “With humanitarian emergencies becoming more frequent and challenging around the world, images play a key role in conveying the meaning of such crises to distant audiences.

“Because they influence public perceptions and policy approaches, prevailing visualisations of humanitarian crises are powerful but can be problematic.

“They often focus on violent events, suggesting we are overwhelmed by problems and unable to find solutions.”

Polio vaccinations for children in Liberia
Photo: Grainger Laffan

The professor knows that images of suffering victims can inspire compassionate reactions in the western world and aid fundraising, but he also feels this leads to stereotypical portrayals of complete dependence on foreign help and lead to unintended complications.

His study will address these issues and examine alternative visual strategies that don’t create unwanted stereotypes while continuing to illicit compassion.

The aim is to create best practice guidelines that are able to assist humanitarian organisations in their pictorial approaches.

The photojournalism perspective will be represented by the World Press Photo Foundation.

Read more here.