Why do we still need photography to tell us about hunger?


Lots of people around the world are talking about food today, as it is both World Food Day and Blog Action Day 2011 (BAD theme: food).

Why? Because globally, nearly a billion of the world’s nearly 7 billion population are short of food. That’s nearly 15% of the total number of people on the planet. Over 10 million of them are in the Horn of Africa region of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. In Somalia, 750,000 are at immediate risk of death due to the famine that is gripping parts of the country. But what can be done about it?

I was going to try to pull together some collected thoughts about how – if at all – photography and multimedia play any part in our understanding of what this problem of food and hunger means. Looking at the numbers though, it seems almost trite to even contemplate that the act of taking a photograph could remotely make any difference.

But the fact is that it does. It matters that journalists and photographers keep telling the story of what is going on in the Horn of Africa, and in other crisis zones around the world. People say that we’re tired of images of suffering, that the media only represents a very narrow stereotyped view of drought and hunger and famine.

Maybe this was true a few years ago. But the rapid advances in internet access, ‘social media’ websites, digital cameras and internet-enabled smart phones have changed the way many of us see and find out about the world, and are arguably on the cusp of fundamentally challenging the so-called traditional media, forcing it to re-invent itself.

Blog Action Day is just one example of this, uniting thousands of people around the world in one simultaneous conversation around a topic that affects us all. The United Nations has been running ‘World xxxxx Days’ on dozens if not hundreds of issues for years. But now, more than ever before, information, images and video can travel around the world and be seen by millions of people in moments.

What we do with this information, whether a photograph or a story or a piece of grainy video footage compels us into action or behaviour change, is still and will always be a subjective decision. After all, what can we do with it? Many of us will look ghoulishly and click away (or ‘turn the page’ as it used to be called). But some of us will hit the ‘click to donate’ button, or pick up our mobile phone and text a five digit number to donate a fiver.

The video posted above was shot by a colleague of mine a couple of weeks ago, in Turkana, northwest Kenya; I had a small hand in editing it. It attempts to tell just one small part of a huge story; Turkana is a vast county where 95% of the population live on less than a dollar a day. Like much of the rest of the Horn of Africa, it is suffering badly as a result of the drought, though not as badly as some places. Even so though, many people here are in desperate need of help. We are helping some of them, but the images shot by my colleague tell me that we need to help them a lot more.

Visit the DEC East Africa Crisis website to donate whatever you can.

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About russellphoto

Photographer and multimedia producer/editor working in international development. Also on Twitter @russellphoto
This entry was posted in development, humanitarian emergencies, multimedia, photography, photojournalism, social media, twitter, United Nations and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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