Research Point: Primitive Typologies

We are to do some research into the bodies of work discussed in this project (post-colonial ethnography project). Can you find any examples of work carried out amongst indigenous peoples, that in your view, honestly document the lives of their subjects without falling into some of the traps that we’ve been discussing here? If so, how has the photographer achieved this?

The ‘traps’ mentioned in the manual are:

  • romanticism -> ‘noble savage’ and the ‘primitive beauty’
  • primitivism – ‘the reduction of subjects to their essential, external forms, and often the nude human figure is portrayed in harmony with the landscape or the environment, suggesting a sense of natural balance that countered industrialized and urban society’ (The Art Story, s.d.).
  • decontextualisation (considering something in isolation from its usual context)
  • infantilization (treating adults like children akin to patronisation)

It would seem that Peter Lavery‘s website has changed over the interim since the course manual was written and I am only able to find a small selection of his tribal images on his website under the My Tribe My People tab. I was unable to find the Independent magazine’s article on him either, apart from a few illegible thumbnails on his website. If we compare Lavery’s images to those of Edward S. Curtis (, one can see an immediate difference in approach. Curtis has photographed his subject in situ, going about their daily tasks, their living accommodation, their utensils, their immediate surrounds, as well as close ups of various cultural objects, clothing and headshots of the Native American tribal members. With Curtis’s work we have a full picture of how the various tribes live. Maybe there is a bit of romanticism involved in Curtis’s work in that he photographed his subject in a Pictorialist way – soft focus and always presented his subjects in Native American dress, but I find it to be a more representative narrative.

Lavery, however, has photographed his subjects in front of a black background, clearly a makeshift studio setting, and in so doing erases their individuality and renders them “as a generic type” (Orvell, 2003: 32), which definitely makes him guilty of decontextualisation and primitivism in my mind. If infantilization encompasses some of the rather strange poses some of the subjects have obviously been directed to take, then yes, that too; there is definitely nothing remotely romantic about his set of images.

Although quite a few of David Bruce‘s images of the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen in Namibia are posed in front of backdrops, he is has not succumbed to any of the ‘traps’ mentioned above, in my opinion. He has managed to convey the quiet dignity and irrepressible humour  of the San people. As Bruce explains in the video below, the old lady in the photo above walked into his little studio while he was photographing someone else and as soon as that person walked away, she jumped up in front of the camera and Bruce managed to fire off two frames before she wagged her finger at him and walked off again. Her mischievous essence does come across in that photo. Bruce has worked among the bushmen for more than twenty five years and understands some of their language (its one of the most difficult languages in the world). Bruce’s treatment of black & white does lend a timeless quality to the images, but as the Khoisan are probably the oldest population on earth (Schlebusch et al., 2017), I think that treatment is warranted.

Juan Echeverria’s studio portraits of the OvaHimba people tick all the ‘trap’ boxes. In the Himba publication, it seems that all the images have a dark sepia treatment and the photos are presented on black pages which connotes an aged quality. The subjects are mostly positioned in a subjugated position sitting on the floor on a bunched up sheet with a white draped sheet as a background. Clearly the OvaHimba have been decontextualised in these images, but not only that it has been done in a very untidy fashion too judging from the state of the “studio”. What is puzzling though is why Echeverria did this at all? In another publication under the Namibia tab on his website is a colour supplement. This supplement features a photo on the verso page from the first publication and on the recto side colour environmental portraits of the OvaHimba in their role as women, family, men, hunting for game, and shepherding their livestock. The colour photos show the unique characteristics of the OvaHimba women with their red dyed skins and braided hair. The second set of images is a truer representation of the OvaHimba, but the verso image in this set weakens the narrative and is out of place (as well as context).

Jimmy Nelson‘s photos are stunning, but are definitely more fine art than documentary. In Nelson’s own words he admits this: ‘I’m not a journalist. I’m not an ethnologist. I’m not an anthropologist. I’m an artist, … I’m provoking a discussion’ (Chakrabati, s.d.). The fine art slant to his work is quite obvious from some of the poses his subjects are directed to: standing on top of a jeep, and others standing on a rock for a front and back view. He has also muted his colour palettes (I can speak only for the African sections as this is what I know) and this actually creates a rather surreal affect for me. I come from Africa and Africa is not known for pastel colours. The colours are always vibrant, contrasty, full on and harsh in some aspects. It seems as if Nelson has boosted the colours of the clothing in the environment portraits and totally washed out the surrounding countryside. Even the treatment of the landscape images are done in this way. The sand dunes in Namibia have a reddish hue to them, not a washed out beige. The skies too – usually bright blue – rendered almost washed out. For the Himba portraits, Nelson has chosen to desaturate the tell tale colour of the paste the women use on their skin, allowing only traces of this to bleed out into the image – decontextualisation with a capital D!

Polish photographer Adam Koziol is another photographer who is trying to document indigenous tribes on the point of extinction. Koziol’s interest lies in the markings, jewelry, and costumes as symbols of success, bravery, and social status. Because of this interest he has chosen mainly to focus on the faces and cultural accoutrements, resulting in a more intimate viewing experience. I find his treatment of the Himba woman far more acceptable than Nelson’s version.

In an interview with Jessica Stewart of My Modern Met, Kozoil states that while he focuses on aesthetics, he is simultaneously presenting an authentic story of the individual and the tribe which he hopes will generate some discussion among viewers.



Bruce, D. (s.d.) Ju/’hoansi Bushmen. At: (Accessed  11/01/2020).

Chakrabati, M. (s.d.) Photographer Jimmy Nelson’s ‘Homage’ To Our World’s Indigenous Cultures | On Point. At: (Accessed  13/01/2020).

Curtis, E. S. (s.d.) Small Prints. At: (Accessed  11/01/2020).

David Bruce – the man who hears – speaks out! (2018) Directed by Maison, G. At: (Accessed  11/01/2020).

Echeverria, J. (s.d.) JUAN ECHEVERRIA Travel Photography | Namibia. At: (Accessed  11/01/2020a).

Echeverria, J. (s.d.) Namibia_Siete Leguas | Flickr. At: (Accessed  13/01/2020b).

Lavery, P. (s.d.) My Tribe My People. At: (Accessed  10/01/2020).

Open College of the Arts (2014) Documentary – Fact & Fiction | Photography 2 Course Manual. (PH5DFF120419) Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Orvell, M. (2003) American Photography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schlebusch, C. M. et al. (2017) ‘Southern African ancient genomes estimate modern human divergence to 350,000 to 260,000 years ago’ In: Science 358 (6363) pp.652–655.

Stewart, J. (2018) Incredible Portraits of Indigenous Tribes Around the World. At: (Accessed  10/01/2020).

Tate (s.d.) Primitivism – Art Term. At: (Accessed  10/01/2020).

The Art Story (s.d.) Primitivism – Concepts & Styles. At: (Accessed  10/01/2020).

Exercise: Page 92 Course Manual version PH5DFF120419

Please note that the wording of this exercise on page 92 of the course manual, version noted above, is the same as the previous exercise, namely the one about writing a press release for the Brighton Photo Biennial 2008. I emailed Student Advice on 7 January, 2020 about the error, but to date have not received a reply so I am leaving this as a placeholder until such time that I hear back from the office.

Exercise: Brighton Photo Biennial 2008


Read the two essays in the BPB 2008 programme and look at the work the curator selected for the exhibition. Write a short press release of around 250 words in your learning log – in your own words.

(Open College of the Arts, 2014: 90)


The Brighton Photo Biennial 2008
Memory of Fire: the War of Images and Images of War
3 October to  16 November 2008

Julian Stallabrass, guest curator of the third Brighton Photo Biennial is a well known critic, photographer and lecturer at The Courtald Institute of Art and brings together the work of over thirty five photographers spanning conflicts from the periods from World War I to Operation Desert Storm, exploring the history, the making and use and circulation of these images, analysing how these images have shaped social and political views over the decades. Topics covered range from ethics of photography, citizen journalism, media manipulation, memory, pain, the military image-making machine, aftermath photography, the effect of war on women and children, and displacement.

Some of the highlighted exhibitions at Brighton’s visual art centres are: – Agent Orange by Phillip Jones Griffiths documents the harmful effects of the chemical toxin dioxin used in the Vietnam War. A visual comparison between the Vietnam and Iraq Wars in Iraq Through the Lens of Vietnam with emphasis on the dissemination of imagery and their influence to sway public opinion; Photography & Revolution: Memory Trails Through the Latin American Left – features conflict imagery from the Mexican and Cuban Revolutions and the insurrection in El Salvador by Susan Meiselas, Jonathan Moller and Sebastão Salgado and others. Images of the aftermath of war can be seen in The Sublime Image of Destruction featuring the work of Simon Norfolk, Paul Seawright, Broomberg and Chanarin.

Other photographers of note featured are Harriet Logan (Unveiled: Voices of Women in Afghanistan), Geert Van Kesteren (Why, Mister, Why? and Baghdad Calling), Frank Hurley, and Thomas Hirschhorn.

“These images are a resource for critical thinking. It’s easy to forget we’re still at war – it needs to be higher up the political agenda. Presenting photos as art makes people stop and reflect on them.”

Julian Stallabrass


Marshallsay, D. (2008) Brighton Photo Biennial 2008 Questions War Photography | Culture24. At: (Accessed  10/01/2020).

Open College of the Arts (2014) Documentary – Fact & Fiction | Photography 2 Course Manual. (PH5DFF120419) Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Exercise: To Print or Not to Print …

We’re asked to read Claire Cozens’ article about the Madrid bombings (March 11, 2004) and offer an opinion as to what we would have done if we were an editor of a British broadsheet newspaper. Firstly I’m more used to Canadian and  American media so am not sure if there is a difference in editorial sensibilities. I’m going to assume not. Secondly the image in the Cozens article is quite pixelated and cropped square. Above this are links to the original image, the version the Guardian published, and also links to how the Times and The Telegraph treated the image. None of these link, however, work. But I did manage to track down a slideshare (in Portuguese) that seems to have all the versions in question:  In the original El Pais image, the severed femur can be seen lying next to the tracks. The Guardian decided to desaturate the bloodied limb which looks odd. The Times and The Telegraph both cloned the limb out with surrounding gravel. I can understand the editors’ reasons for wanting to lessen the attention to the limb, but in the Guardian’s case I feel that the desaturation actually focuses the viewer’s attention on it as it is clear that something has been manipulated and this could raise questions about the reliability/accuracy of the photo. The total removal of the limb in the case of The Times and The Telegraph amounts to a form of covert censorship. I’m more inclined to agree with fellow student Rob Townsend who suggests that a better way of preserving the viewers’ sensibilities would be to superimpose a black strip across the limb and provide an explanatory caption. How would I handle the situation? To be absolutely truthful, I really can’t say. Having grown up in a country where media censorship was the order of the day, I am totally averse to any form of censorship. Personally, I would rather apply self-censorship and have the choice to look or not to look, but I can understand that newspapers have to consider their readerships – I do get that. But to put a different slant on things here – doesn’t that then play into commodification?

The Michael Ignatieff article that we are also asked to read states that there are four areas of sensitivity that should be considered when deciding whether to print an image or not. They are violence, faking (digital manipulation), intrusions into privacy, sex and public decency. There are also questions that should be asked when making this determination:

  • Is the event of such historical or social significance that the shock is justified?
  • Is the questionable detail necessary for a proper understanding the event?
  • Does the subject consent freely?
  • Is the photograph expressive of humanity?

Ignatieff goes on to state that at least one of these questions must be answered affirmatively when making the determination to print or not.

If we apply those criteria to the printing of the Guerrero photo, we can see that a) the bombing was a significant historical event that warrants it being published; b) the questionable detail (the severed limb) is not necessary for a proper understanding of the event as there is enough devastation visible for the public to understand what had happened; c) is not applicable due to the public nature of the event; and d) is a bit of a double-edge sword – on the one hand we see the dark side of humanity (the aftermath of the bombing) and on the other we see the compassionate side of humanity (the people going to aid the victims).

Did Pablo Torres Guerrero provide Reuters with any alternative images, I wonder? I believe we should also consider the Press Photographers’ Code of Ethics which holds photojournalists to a certain standard.  The National Press Photographers Association lists the following under their Code of Ethics:

Visual journalists and those who manage visual news productions are accountable for upholding the following standards in their daily work:

  1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
  2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
  3. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one’s own biases in the work.
  4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.
  5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.
  6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
  7. Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.
  8. Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
  9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.
  10. Do not engage in harassing behavior of colleagues, subordinates or subjects and maintain the highest standards of behavior in all professional interactions.

(Code of Ethics | NPPA, s.d.)

Looking at the Code of Ethics above, I think it is safe to say that Guerrero’s image as  printed in El Pais complied with the above criteria. Clearly the decision to print or not to print is a complicated one and each situation falling into a grey area should be evaluated carefully.


Code of Ethics | NPPA (s.d.) At: (Accessed  06/01/2020).

Cozens, C. (2004) ‘Editors ‘clean up’ bomb photo’ In: The Guardian 12/03/2004 At: (Accessed  06/01/2020).

Sandra Oliveira (20:12:20 UTC) Exemplos De Manipulação. [20:12:20 UTC]. At: (Accessed  06/01/2020).

Townsend, R. (2016) Exercise: To print or not to print – Documentary. At: (Accessed  06/01/2020).

Exercise: WeAreOCA – The Ethics of Aesthetics

I’m responding to this article as part of an exercise in the Documentary course. I’m number 65 in the long list of commentators and after reading seven year’s worth of replies am now suffering from “comment fatigue”. I’m finding it rather difficult to add anything new to this discussion. The links to the images referenced in the blog post were also broken. Like AnneB I commented on Rankin and Chaskielberg’s work in a previous exercise, so this exercise feels a bit repetitive. I come from Africa (South Africa to be specific) and so might understand the general African politics and cultures better than most in the West here on this post so some of my commentary may be construed as being non-PC . I agree with gjcimages and Eddy Lerp in that a lot of these famine situations are down to mismanagement by governments, both at the national and local levels. Unfortunately corruption is very rife in Africa and leaders (and businessmen) prefer to line their own pockets with appropriated funds, rather than distribute those funds where they should be allocated – just see this Wikipedia entry: Details about the Ethiopian famine can be read in Peter Gill’s book: Famine and Foreigners Ethiopia Since LiveAid. Anna Sellen brought up an interesting Magnum article which I managed to track down and will put on my reading list.

As I mentioned in my previous post on Rankin and Chaskielberg, I found a total disconnect with Chaskielberg’s photos. Yes, they are beautiful, but they come across as unnatural for all the reasons previously mentioned by other commentators: long exposure, stiff stances, unfamiliar African skies. By choosing to shoot in the moonlight, he is actually romanticising the situation. The African sun is harsh, relentless and stark and this is reflected in the natural vegetation as well (dry savannah grasses, thorn trees, etc). By making his photos at night, Chaskielberg has hidden these important environmental aspects from the viewer, creating surreal depictions of Africanized-modern-day-Victorian portraits. I did find Rankin‘s images to be more honest, but still found them glamourized, especially when I looked at his Oxfam Congo portraits which he has taken in a studio portraiture style, complete with white seamless backgrounds. These photos could be for a fashion magazine shoot (more so than the Oxfam Kenya portraits). Perhaps there is a trend developing to portray suffering in a “politically correct” way? David Levi Strauss (2007) correctly states that “One needs first to feel the pain of others before one can begin to act to alleviate it. And one of the ways humans recognize the pain of others is by seeing it, in images”. The test to act upon these three photographers’ images would probably be one’s willingness to donate money to the respective charities. Chaskielberg’s images would get a “no” vote from me, Rankin’s a “maybe” while Tom Stoddart’s a definite “yes”.


Coomes, P. (2012) ‘Alejandro Chaskielberg’s pictures by moonlight’ In: BBC News 18/01/2012 At: (Accessed  05/01/2020).

Empathy and Photography • Magnum Photos (s.d.) At: (Accessed  05/01/2020).

Levi Strauss, D. (2005) ‘The Documentary Debate: Aesthetic of Anaesthetic? Or, What’s So Funny About Peace, Love, Understanding, and Social Documentary Photography?’ In: Between the Eyes. New York: Aperture Foundation. pp.3–11.

Mraz, J. (2002) ‘Sebastião Salgado: Ways of Seeing Latin America’ In: Third Text 16 (1) pp.15–30.

Rankin photographs famine in east Africa (2011) In: The Guardian 14/10/2011 At: (Accessed  05/01/2020).

Strauss, D. L. (2007) Is the aestheticization-of-suffering critique still valid? – David Levi Strauss – Bookforum Magazine. At: (Accessed  16/10/2019).

Oxfam: Rankin and Alejandro Chaskielberg

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.

Fig. 1. Documentary – RANKIN – Oxfam Kenya 2011

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: 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).

Fig. 2. Documentary – RANKIN – Oxfam Congo 2008

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.

Fig. 3. Turkana by Alejandro Chaskielberg

Fig. 4. Turkana by Alejandro Chaskielberg

Fig. 5. Turkana by Alejandro Chaskielberg

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: (Accessed  04/01/2020).

Chaskielberg, A. (2011) Turkana. At: (Accessed  04/01/2020).

Kramer, A. (2012) Alejandro Chaskielberg’s moonlight photos: Too beautiful? | Oxfam America First Person Blog. At: (Accessed  04/01/2020).

No Body’s Perfect with Rankin and Alison Lapper | Lynda Kuit Photography – Identity and Place (2016) At: (Accessed  03/01/2020).

Photographer Rankin in Kenya (2011) Directed by Oxfam GB. At: (Accessed  03/01/2020).



Figure 1. Rankin. (2011) Documentary – RANKIN – Oxfam Kenya. At: (Accessed on 4 January 2020)

Figure 2. Rankin. (2008) Documentary – RANKIN – Oxfam Congo. At: (Accessed on 4 January 2020)

Figure 3. Chaskielberg, A. (2011) Turkana. At: (Accessed on 4 January 2020)

Figure 4. Chaskielberg, A. (2011) Turkana. At: (Accessed on 4 January 2020)

Figure 5. Chaskielberg, A. (2011) Turkana. At: (Accessed on 4 January 2020)

Exercise: Imaging Famine

The exhibition catalogue which we are asked to read offers up more questions to the nature of famine than solutions. Most of the important points raised are still questionable/relevant today as they were in the mid 1980s. Whether it is moral to use images of suffering to raise money/create awareness of the situation? Does the end justify the means, or should we ignore the dignity of those who are suffering? What are the short term and long term effects of the impact of these photographs?

Call me a cynic, but I do have to wonder whether the charities and/or NGO’s are really there to help those who need it most, or are they simply there to further their own agendas? How much of the money that is collected for these relief funds really reach the people that need it – or does it largely go on administrative costs? What say do local communities who need the aid have in where or how it will be spent? Giving aid is big business and the industry is driven by economic indicators (no matter how much the aid agencies deny it). The Western world is prone to a distorted view of the world, according to Shahidul Alam (1994), a view of skewed perceptions and stereotyping. I clearly remember my first encounter with stereotyping when I was nine years old. I was attending the British International School in The Hague, Netherlands and a new boy had joined our class. During our break he asked me where I came from (the teacher having mentioned that I was also “from Africa”), and upon hearing my reply that I was from South Africa, he immediately retorted that I couldn’t possibly come from South Africa because I wasn’t black! I found his statement so unbelievably stupid because he was a white boy from Kenya!

The Imaging Famine catalogue (p. 11) cites Susan Moeller making a statement that the amount of coverage a news report will receive is all about location : “One dead fireman in Brooklyn is worth five English bobbies, who are worth 50 Arabs, who are worth 500 Africans.” This statement is confirmed by the Guardian’s reporter David Adam in his Crisis of communications article which compared the amount of news coverage certain world wide disasters received in the media: Hurricane Katrina (New Orleans), Hurricane Stanley (Guatemala), the earthquake in Pakistani Kashmir, the Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran and the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan. Carma International, who initiated the study reported that western reporting is driven by “selfishness and egocentricity” (Adam, 2006). Globalisation hasn’t really broken down borders because audiences care most about those news stories with which they can identify with (their community, their country, their people). Of course Hurricane Katrina received the most coverage, mainly down to the fact that such devastation was not really expected in an advanced country such as the USA, but it is quite ‘acceptable’ or ‘taken for granted’ that a similar devastation could occur in Guatemala or other developing nation as building standards would be considered inferior.

Politics and economics are the main drivers. Coming from Africa myself, I have been all too aware of the fact that aid (in whatever form) only really goes to those countries which have something that the west wants, as in the case with the USA covertly getting involved in the South African Border War (French, 2002). The mining resources in Namibia were just too valuable to allow them to fall into the hands of the Russians and Cubans. But this proved not to be the case during the Rwandan genocide though, despite pleas for more peacekeeping aid from the Canadian troops stationed in that country, the UN Security Council voted to withdraw troops as the situation escalated. What did Rwanda really have to offer the west? After all it is mainly an agricultural economy with very limited mineral resources (Owuor Otieno, 2019).

Compassion fatigue aside, what is touched upon quite briefly, but which is a huge contributor to these situations arising, is the corrupt governments that many African countries have. Look at Zimbabwe, former Rhodesia, once dubbed the “bread basket of Africa” and how that country was mismanaged to the ground while the President lived in the lap of luxury, while the population queues for drinking water:

Sadly South Africa has joined the long list of corrupt countries in Africa (one just has to google “South Africa” and “corruption” to be presented with a list of scandals and schemes). A Corruption Index map of 2018 reveals just how bad this is across the developing world. Tom Stoddart’s photograph of a child crawling after a man who has just stolen a bag of maize from him for me represents the epitome of African governments, both on local and national levels.

(Fig. 1. A rich local man steals the maize for which a child has queued for hours 1998)

The impact of a photograph can be immediate and the addition of text or caption can greatly change our interpretation of the situation. Sometimes the text challenges our assumptions, conveys a message or advertises the aid agencies good deeds, or urges us to donate money. But also crucial to how effective that message can or will be, is who is writing that text. Is the text being written by a copy editor thousands of miles away who is putting his own slant on the situation or is it being conveyed by the photographer who is the eye witness?

The situation is not just a matter of ethics of aesthetics. It is more complex than that. Economics, politics, individual, NGO and governmental agendas are at play, as well as those of the news media and not to forget that of the advertisers. Nothing is simple and clearly the more one thinks about these issues raised in the exhibition catalogue, the more questions I am asking.


Adam, D. (2006) ‘Crisis of communications’ In: The Guardian 30/01/2006 At: (Accessed  03/01/2020).

Alam, S (1994) The Visual Representation of Developing Countries  by Developmental Agencies and the Western Media At: (Accessed 03/01/2020)

CBS News (2019) Harare, Zimbabwe sees water supply cut off today as economic crisis and drought cripple supplies. At: (Accessed  03/01/2020).

Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 – Transparency International (s.d.) At: (Accessed  03/01/2020).

Foot, R. (2019) Canadian Peacekeepers in Rwanda | The Canadian Encyclopedia. At: (Accessed  03/01/2020).

French, H. W. (2002) ‘From Old Files, a New Story Of U.S. Role in Angolan War’ In: The New York Times 31/03/2002 At: (Accessed  03/01/2020).

Owuor Otieno, S. (2019) What Are The Major Natural Resources Of Rwanda? – At: (Accessed  03/01/2020).

Robert Mugabe’s homes away from home (2017) At: (Accessed  03/01/2020).

Shahidul Alam on the Revolutionary Power of Photography (2012) At: (Accessed  03/01/2020).


Figure 1. Stoddart, T. (1998) A rich local man steals the maize for which a child has queued for hours. At: (Accessed on 3 January 2020)

Exercise: Walk the Line and Imaging War

We are to read the above mentioned articles and record our reactions to the authors’ comments.

Jonathan Kaplan trained as a medical doctor in South Africa and has been a hospital surgeon, a flying doctor, a ship’s medical officer and a battlefield surgeon, working in  Burma, Kurdistan, America, Mozambique, England and Eritrea. He is the author of two books, The Dressing Station and Contact Wounds which are both accounts of his various medical experiences in war torn countries. Kaplan compares the processes of being a doctor as being rather similar to that of photojournalism: both practices involve constant comparison – anticipating outcomes, planning for contingencies and responding to problems. In his article he touches briefly on the fact that “reality surgery” has become a great source of entertainment. How many TV series involving hospital dramas are aired each season, not to mention the actual live Emergency Room series that we have running here in Canada where a TV crew follows a dedicated medical team as they go about their daily shifts in British Columbia’s busiest emergency department. We can also watch an actual war on TV these days too. I remember the first Gulf War all too clearly. I was back in South Africa then and folks would arrive at work carrying their portable TVs and would be watching the war unfold while they worked.

Kaplan’s article goes on to mention how technology has changed the way medical students are able to learn these days. Virtual reality, 3-D visualisation, remote control access and robotics have enabled students to halve their learning time, while still honing their skills successfully. Indeed technology is so far advanced that “every celeb will have their … video-colonoscopy voyage up their own arsehole viewable by millions on YouTube” (Kaplan: 2008).

Max Houghton is the MA course leader in Photojournalism and Documentary at the London College of Communication. I found her writing to be a bit sensationlistic as she refers to the “decapitated heads of Uday and Qusay” (Hussein) which were featured on the front page of the Guardian in July 2003. Being inquisitive I accessed the relevant Guardian page ( and was rather puzzled at her comments as the photos clearly show that they were not beheaded at all. There are even subsequent fuller-length photos showing the post-mortem surgery marks which were taken a day or two later should one care to look.

Sensationalism aside, both authors are in agreement that there is a line that one does not cross. Some say its a matter of taste, but its also a matter of ethics. But where is that placement of the line? Is it only applicable when viewing images of us (the West)? Do we only show restraint when we identify with those people and not show images of the dead, or mutilated bodies? Or is OK when the images are of the Other (the enemy in cases of war)? Sophie Batterbury, picture editor of the Independent on Sundays states: “the goriest pictures don’t actually tell the story very well” (Houghton, 2008). I can understand that – revulsion is not a good viewing companion. But to get back to those earlier questions and some personal experience – I have seen images that are far more shocking than those featured in these articles, images that are of US where no restraint has been shown for a viewer’s sensibilities. I’m talking about the farm murders in South Africa. But those images were not taken by the media – in these cases the media will not report on farm murders because they don’t get a click through from the links on the news article! So horrific crimes are not being reported on. Instead affected family members and friends are posting the photos on the internet in an attempt to make the world aware of these atrocities. So ethically speaking – how does that sit when the news media is more interested in click-through statistics than in reporting the crimes? I feel that that invisible ethical line was not even approached in these cases. Clearly there are no clear cut answers, just more questions. British journalist Katie Hopkins put her own life in danger to report on the situation in South Africa (video below for anyone who is interested — warning some images not for sensitive viewers).


Houghton, M. (2008) ‘Walk the Line’ In: Foto8 (23) Spring/2008 pp.133–134.

Kaplan, J. (2008) ‘Imaging War’ In: Foto8 (23) Spring/2008 pp.132–133.

‘Plaasmoorde: The Killing Fields’: Katie Hopkins’ documentary about South Africa (FULL LENGTH) (2018) At: (Accessed  30/12/2019).

Documents of Conflict and Suffering: Gilles Peress, Tim Hetherington and Don McCullin

Gilles Peress’ work is quite graphic, but the very graphic element, in my mind, is quite necessary in relaying the atrocities that took place during the war in Bosnia. The course manual mentioned two styles of photographs – the “graphic photographs of destruction, mutilation and death” and “images of a built environment that shows a deadly serenity that only lifelessness can bring” (Open College of the Arts, 2014:85). But I think there is a third style at work in Peress’ images – that of people trying to overcome their suffering – images that show how resolute the human spirit can be in the face of adversities. I see pain and suffering etched out on the faces and reflected in the body language of Peress’ subjects but I also catch glimpses of a quiet defiance in some of the gazes and it is these that hold my own gaze, more so than the graveyard or hospital scenes.

A photograph of a child’s drawing – a normal pleasurable children’s activity – acts as a signifier for the war. People lie strewn across a road, post a bomb blast, bleeding, limbs torn from their bodies, pools of blood, cars riddled with bullet holes, cracked glass, mortar shells in the walls, survivors being carried across the road – the tears streaming from the face of the one helping. I’m amazed at the tiny details that have been included in the sketch – spectacles in the road, shoes and other clothing items strewn across the road. Only a child who has seen so much of this type of “scenery” could reproduce this so graphically and in such detail. I found this image quite heartbreaking!

(Fig. 1. BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA. 1993 NYC60104 (PEG1993007W00076/25) © Gilles Peress/Magnum Photos)

And the photograph of someone’s mother or granny leaving on a bus which instantly reminded me of images of Jewish evacuees during WWII (I only read the captions after I’d looked at all the images once, so was not immediate aware that it was actually a Jewish evaucation). A hand stretches out for what might be the last moment of contact she will have with that person. The dirty window doesn’t manage to hide her anguish and distress.

(Fig. 2. BOSNIA. Sarajevo. 1993. Departure of Jews in Skanderia. NYC27417 (PEG1993007W00480/33) © Gilles Peress/Magnum Photos)

In the video below, Peress explains how disillusioned he became with the language of the political left. He regards his photography as a tool to mediate the relationships of the world. He does not regard himself as a war photographer, instead focuses creating a dialogue between himself and the viewer. As he states – there comes a point in time when viewing his images, that his language ends, and the viewer’s begins.

(Fig. 3. Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. Brandon Olson, Specialist of Second Platoon, Battle Company of the Second Battalion of the US 503rd Infantry Regiment sinks onto an embankment in the Restrepo bunker at the end of the day. The Korengal Valley was the epicenter of the US fight against militant Islam in Afghanistan and the scene of some of the deadliest combat in the region. 2008 Tim Hetherington WY | World Press Photo 2008)

Tim Hetherington’s images have a strong sense of immediacy about them. He did, after all go out with the troops under the same conditions that they were fighting in, shared their food and camps. Although the course manual states that the jury regarded his World Press Photo Award of 2007 as “painterly”, the jury chairman of the World Press Photo 2007 contest, Gary Knight’s statement resonates more with me: “This image shows the exhaustion of a man and the exhaustion of a nation, we’re all connected to this. It’s a picture of a man at the end of a line” (ten Wolde, 2008). It’s an insider’s image, one that was taken in the course of the action, ever so slightly blurry but packed with all sorts of conflicting emotions.

Hetherington talks about that moment below:

The link in the course manual to the BBC radio’s Excess Baggage program does not work. I found a YouTube video to watch instead. At first when Don McCullin became a war photographer he did not realise that he was harping on the glory of war and not picking up on the price of war which is paid by the civilians. He soon realised his mistake and started focusing on the effects of war on the civilians. McCullin admits that he often evoked Francisco de Goya in his work, trying to photograph in a similar way that Goya painted his war sketches. “The directness and intimacy … are a result of McCullin’s unflinching regard and ability to maintain his subject’s gaze” (Stauble, 2013). Stauble also describes McCullin’s images as harrowing and very sorrowful, which indeed they are. He makes eye contact with his subjects and focuses on their gaze, allowing that to draw the viewer into their world.


Open College of the Arts (2014) Documentary – Fact & Fiction | Photography 2 Course Manual. (PH5DFF120419) Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Peress, G. (1993) Farewell to Bosnia. At: (Accessed  27/12/2019).

Shaped by War, Photographs by Don McCullin (2010) Directed by Hermann, P. At: (Accessed  27/12/2019).

Stauble, K. (2013) ‘Don McCullin: Darkening Clouds’ In: Walker, L. (ed.) Don McCullin: A Retrospective. Ottawa: Archive of Modern Conflict.

Tim Hetherington reflects on his World Press Photo of the Year winning image (2018) Directed by Photo, W.P. At: (Accessed  27/12/2019).

University of California – Berkley (2008) Conversations with History: Gilles Peress – YouTube. At: (Accessed  27/12/2019).

ten Wolde, H. (2008) ‘Image of U.S. soldier wins World Press Photo prize’ In: Reuters 08/02/2008 At: (Accessed  27/12/2019).


Figure 1. Peress, G. (1993) BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA. 1993 NYC60104 (PEG1993007W00076/25) © Gilles Peress/Magnum Photos. At: (Accessed on 27 December 2019)

Figure 2. Peress, G. (1993) BOSNIA. Sarajevo. 1993. Departure of Jews in Skanderia. NYC27417 (PEG1993007W00480/33) © Gilles Peress/Magnum Photos. At: (Accessed on 27 December 2019)

Figure 3. Hetherington, T. (2008) Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. Brandon Olson, Specialist of Second Platoon, Battle Company of the Second Battalion of the US 503rd Infantry Regiment sinks onto an embankment in the Restrepo bunker at the end of the day. The Korengal Valley was the epicenter of the US fight against militant Islam in Afghanistan and the scene of some of the deadliest combat in the region.  2008 Tim Hetherington WY | World Press Photo. At: (Accessed on 27 December 2019)

Exercise: The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic

The Brief:

Read the article ‘The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic’ by Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins.

In what ways does the idea of the gaze apply to your photography? What are the implications of this for your practice? Write a short reflective commentary in your learning log.

I really get so frustrated when reading journal articles that refer to a plethora of images, discuss them in great detail, but don’t bother to show them in the article – as this one does. Having just finished reading the resource that OCA had made available as a download, I tried a Google search to see if I could find the photos that are referred to in the article. Lo and behold – I came across an online chapter with a notation scribbled across it citing The Photography Reader by Liz Wells as the source and yes it is there in the book complete with the photos. Wish I had known that from the start!

Lutz and Collins first cover some different traditions of analysing the gaze. The “inter-ethnic looking” that occurs in National Geographic magazines is concerned with the gaze as a means of control. A quick summary of the traditions follows below:

Laura Mulvey

  • gazes are focused in the patriarchal society
  • “split between active/male and passive/female” (Lutz & Collins: 1991: 135)
  • Position of spectator = male and allows for construction of femininity

Reference: Mulvey, L. (1999) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ In: Braudy, L. and Cohen, M. (eds.) Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. New York: Oxford University Press. pp.833–844.

John Berger

  • men = active doers/women = passive presence
  • men by what they do to others/women by their attitudes towards themselves
  • “the surveyor and the surveyed”
  • “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”
  • “the surveyor of woman  in herself is male”.

Reference: Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books.

Jacques Lacan

The gaze is something distinct from the eye of the beholder and as distinct from simple vision. The gaze comes back from the other who is the self in that looking, but the gaze the self encounters “is not a seen gaze, but a gaze imagined by me in the field of “the Other”.

Reference: Lacan, J. (1981) The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. New York: Norton.

Homi Bhabha

Gaze is crucial to the colonial gaze. Ambivalence and an unsettling effect must accompany the colonial gaze because mirror = problematic because of self recognition. Looking at the Racial Other places the viewer in a position of both recognizing him in the other and denying that recognition.

Michel Foucault

Close observation of the subject allows for a “normalizing gaze”, which is a surveillance which makes it possible to qualify, classify and punish. Visibility -> differentiates -> punishes.

Reference: Foucault, M. (1995) Discipline and Punish | The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Sheridan, A. (s.l.): Vintage Books.

National Geographic’s gaze = international power relations which allow for surveillance or control of non-Western people.

In the article Lutz and Collins mention that National Geographic filters the looks for the reader via its own gaze. According to them different types of gazes intersect in a National Geographic photograph. They list seven of these types of gazes:

  • The Photographer’s Gaze: the eye of the camera, what Daniel Chandler refers to as “the way the camera itself appears to look at the people/objects depicted” (Chandler: 1998). For the most part the photographer’s gaze overlaps with that of the viewer’s gaze.
  • The Magazine’s Gaze: this is the editorial gaze – the whole institutionalized process which involves the editor’s decisions regarding location shoots, the editor’s choice of pictures, the editor’s/designer’s decision to crop/juxtapose certain photos with others, the caption writer’s text.
  • The Magazine Reader’s gazes: with a magazine subscription like National Geographic, the reader has certain expectations about he/she is going to see in each edition, there is a sense of anticipation that accompanies the handling of the physical object (photograph/magazine). “The reader’s gaze … has a history and a future, and it is structured by the mental work of inference and imagination” (Lutz and Collins, 1991:138).
    • structured by cultural elements
    • informed by the way each individual regards the images taking into account his/her own cultural, personal, political background or interests [Barthes’ concept of authorship]
    • on the one hand the photograph allows for participation in a non-Western scene; on the other it turns the reader into a passive viewer as they are not able to see/hear/smell the environment depicted in the image
    • this changes the person/people photographed into an object
    • the way the viewer is encouraged to connect with the figures in the photograph is termed “suturing” (a metaphor used by Victor Burgin in ‘Photography, Phantasy, Function’ In: Thinking Photography).
    • Suturing takes place in two ways:
      • voyeuristic look = this requires and promotes a distance between viewer and subject
      • narcissistic identification = creates the illusion that the photograph is a mirror.
    • This gaze is structured by the context of reading which includes the cultural notions about the magazine itself.
  • The Non-Westerner’s Gaze: how and where the subject looks determines the differences in the message a photograph can give about intercultural relations. There are four types of gazes of the other:
    • direct gaze
      • acknowledges the photographer/viewer
      • might be confrontational
      • facial expressions help determine subject’s attitude
      • creates an illusion of communication and intimacy
      • frontal shot breaks down language barriers
      • is not candid
      • permits examination
      • racial/age and gender differences affect perspectives of this gaze
      • historically used more by the “rougher classes”
    • look at someone/something within frame [the internal or intra-diegetic gaze]
      • historically this gaze has been utilized by the “superior classes” symbolizing themselves as being less available or inclined to deal with the photographer’s agenda
      • this creates an “index of interest, attention or goals” from the reader’s standpoint.
    • look off into distance [averted gaze/divergent attention]
      • this out of frame look creates implications for viewer identification with the subject
      • can convey two very different types of personalities
    • gaze absent altogether
      • occurs when figures are very tiny in photo, in a crowd of people, image is dark, person’s face is covered by mask or veil.
      • These images tend to be read as landscape or as an activity being represented rather than about the people.
  • The Direct Westerner’s Gaze
    • represents intercultural relations between West and other countries. There is a validating function present if a Western is in the photograph – lends authenticity. This makes indexing of the individuals possible, as well as seeing the contrasts and similarities between the Western and Other.
    • A gaze that lacks reciprocity is a colonial gaze – it views the Other as an ethnic object.
  • The Refracted Gaze of the Other:to see themselves as others see them
    • I.e. the native with the camera
    • Mirror and camera are tools of self-reflection and surveillance
    • Psychoanalysis
      • Infant -> mirror = ego formation -> first time as other (Lacan’s theory)
      • Self-reflective capacities; mirror = possibility of self-awareness
      • Mirror’s placement in non-Western’s hands -> interesting photo for Westerns -> perception of non-Western = child-like & intellectually immature. Lack of self-awareness = lack of history
      • Mirror is sometimes used to create narrative about national identity formation
    • The camera is a form of power and when the non-Westerner is holding the camera, this violates the Westerners prerogative.
    • In a similar fashion, National Geographic magazine acts as a historical, cultural, political mirror.
  • The Academic Spectator
    • Sub-type of the reader’s gaze
    • All the gazes/looks are filtered for the reader by way of the academic’s own gaze
    • Intent -> critique of images not aesthetic appreciation
    • Aim is to make pictures tell a different story than originally meant -> more about the makers & their readers than the subjects in the photos
    • Alternative gaze

The profusion of gazes surrounding and within any image is the root of its ambiguity.

With regards to my own practice I have been aware of the different types of gazes and their subtle nuances since doing the Identity and Place module. What this article has really highlighted for me, is the interplay of the different types of gazes that are present in a photograph. It has, likewise, made me more aware of the power or control of the gaze and how much can be read and misread in attempting to decode these looks. I’m also all too aware of how quickly a facial expression can change and how slow a camera’s shutter button can sometimes be in capturing that change. What is sometimes captured as a scowl or serious expression actually becomes a grin or laughter a couple of fractions later. Going forward though I will bear the significance of the gaze in mind and consider my intent regarding the narrative I am trying to create.


Chandler, D. (1998) Notes on The Gaze. At: (Accessed  22/12/2019).

Lutz, C. and Collins, J. (1991) ‘The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic’ In: Visual Anthropology Review 7 (1) pp.134–149.