I have a lot of respect for Rankin’s work since viewing his No Body’s Perfect body of work a few years ago. He photographs his subjects with a tremendous amount of respect and makes a concerted effort to photograph not just the skinny celeb models, but the ordinary woman with curves as well. His Oxfam images made in Kenya can be seen here. But while there is obviously hunger in Kenya (depicted mainly by the cupped hands holding out the daily portion of maize), on the whole Rankin’s subject look fairly well nourished. The children all have fat, rounded cheeks, are bright eyed, snot-free and sans the irritable flies that plagued the Ethiopian and Sudanese children that I encountered in the previous exercise.
As Rankin states in this video below, everyone has vitality. The people are proud and empowered, not asking for anything. They feel they just need to be able to work and provide food for their animals and themselves.
However, in Rankin’s Oxfam Congo photos: https://rankinphoto.co.uk/portfolio-documentary/#/pic24 to pic37, he has reverted to studio portraiture. His subjects are all smiling, and look like they are having fun getting their portraits taken. A little boy poses with a tin cans over his eye as if looking through a telescope, a couple of others pull funny faces, a lady poses with a camera as if she has just snapped a pic of Rankin and a gentleman stands strumming his guitar. Rankin states that he wants to show the bravery and resilience of these people, but I personally think that their plight has been trivialised. The Congo photos look rather glamourous, the lighting is too perfect, the subjects are performing for the camera and they are totally removed from any context whatsoever. The Oxfam Kenya photos are slightly better in that they show the people in their environment but I think the cupped hands trope that Rankin has employed in this set of images conveys a the symbolic message of begging (perhaps intentional?) and is overdone (even though he states in the video that they aren’t asking for anything and are merely showing the food they eat in a day).
Alejandro Chaskielberg goes a few steps further and does night shoots and uses long exposure and strobe lighting. This does nothing to convey the issue of famine and drought as far as I’m concerned. It’s a total glamourisation and very carefully staged because of the long exposures. There is an element of the surreal in these night photos and I think it has to do with the lighting Chaskielberg is using as well as the static stances of the people. I personally have no problem with images being beautiful, but they should convey the grit and earthiness of everyday life that these people have to deal with (Salgado’s images do that). By opting to shoot at night Chaskielberg has managed to eliminate the realities of the harsh, unrelenting African sun which has very much to do with the poverty situation and has romanticised the African night and thus confuses the narrative of what he is trying to convey.
While Rankin and Chaskielberg’s images are easier to look at – perhaps easier on the man in the street’s conscience too, I’m not sure if they convey the message of poverty and famine enough. It would be interesting to find out how much money the Oxfam campaigns raised compared to that of LiveAid. But the two situations are slightly different. LiveAid represents a relief project while the Oxfam campaigns are more focused on development – rehabilitating the pastoralist way of life for these Kenyans, providing them with some animals, setting up gardening projects, providing fishing nets, encouraging them to learn new skills in order to help themselves and get back on their feet. Rankin and Chaskielberg both document their subjects as they begin to turn their lives around, while Paul Lowe and Tom Stoddart documented their subjects at their lowest ebb in life.
Award winning photographer Alejandro Chaskielberg’s night photographs at London’s OXO Tower Wharf – Oxfam GB Media Centre (2012) At: https://oxfamapps.org/media/press_release/2012-03-award-winning-photographer-alejandro-chaskielberg/ (Accessed 04/01/2020).
Chaskielberg, A. (2011) Turkana. At: https://www.chaskielberg.com/portfolios/turkana (Accessed 04/01/2020).
Kramer, A. (2012) Alejandro Chaskielberg’s moonlight photos: Too beautiful? | Oxfam America First Person Blog. At: https://firstperson.oxfamamerica.org/2012/01/alejandro-chaskielbergs-moonlight-photos-too-beautiful/ (Accessed 04/01/2020).
No Body’s Perfect with Rankin and Alison Lapper | Lynda Kuit Photography – Identity and Place (2016) At: https://lyndakuitphotographyiap.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/no-bodys-perfect-with-rankin-and-alison-lapper/ (Accessed 03/01/2020).
Photographer Rankin in Kenya (2011) Directed by Oxfam GB. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWdDuuZ2Tk8 (Accessed 03/01/2020).
Figure 1. Rankin. (2011) Documentary – RANKIN – Oxfam Kenya. At: https://rankinphoto.co.uk/portfolio-documentary/#/pic14 (Accessed on 4 January 2020)
Figure 2. Rankin. (2008) Documentary – RANKIN – Oxfam Congo. At: https://rankinphoto.co.uk/portfolio-documentary/#/pic34 (Accessed on 4 January 2020)
Figure 3. Chaskielberg, A. (2011) Turkana. At: https://www.chaskielberg.com/portfolios/turkana (Accessed on 4 January 2020)
Figure 4. Chaskielberg, A. (2011) Turkana. At: https://www.chaskielberg.com/portfolios/turkana (Accessed on 4 January 2020)
Figure 5. Chaskielberg, A. (2011) Turkana. At: https://www.chaskielberg.com/portfolios/turkana (Accessed on 4 January 2020)