On July 13, 1985, I sat down in front of the TV at noon and scarcely moved for the rest of the day. Millions of people around the world did exactly the same.
It was the day of Live Aid, of course – the brain child of Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, who organized this worldwide concert to raise money for the starving in Ethiopia.
While news reports the following day stated that around £50m had been raised (and this figure eventually turned out to be much higher), seven hours into the UK concert, reputedly only £1.2m had been raised. Bob Geldof’s reaction to this information spawned what was, for me, the second most memorable moment of that day – his impassioned, four-letter outburst on live BBC TV, in which he begged the public to send in their money.
Note that I said “second most memorable moment.” The image of Live Aid that most clearly remains with me 26 years later – apart from Queen’s rendition of “Radio Ga Ga” – is the montage of film and photographs of suffering Ethiopians, set to the song “Drive” by The Cars.
After Geldof’s outburst, it is said that donations increased to £300 per second, and after The Cars’ video, the rate increased even more. While I can’t verify those facts, I do know my own checkbook came out as the last note of “Drive” died away.
A surprising legacy
One would think this global event, born from pure and altruistic motives, could only leave a trail of good in its wake. However, a 2002 report by the British VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas) called “The Live Aid Legacy” highlighted some unexpected side effects regarding the way Westerners (Britons) now saw the developing world.
Its first key finding was:
Starving children with flies around their eyes: 80% of the British public strongly associate the developing world with doom-laden images of famine, disaster and Western aid. Sixteen years on from Live Aid, these images are still top of mind and maintain a powerful grip on the British psyche.
Given my own memories of Live Aid, I can believe that.
Victims are seen as less human: Stereotypes of deprivation and poverty, together with images of Western aid, can lead to an impression that people in the developing world are helpless victims. 74% of the British public believe that these countries ‘depend on the money and knowledge of the West to progress.’
– which disturbingly leads to:
False sense of superiority and inferiority: The danger of stereotypes of this depth and magnitude is the psychological relationship they create between the developed and the developing world, which revolves around an implicit sense of superiority and inferiority.
Probably not what Bob Geldof had in mind when he wrote the first lines of “Do they know it’s Christmas?”
A picturesque plea for help, or poverty porn?
Matt Collin, author of the blog Aid Thoughts and our Random Nomad tomorrow, is in no doubt that too many photographs in the media cross the line into “poverty porn.”
In his recent post, Guardians of poverty porn, Matt takes The Guardian newspaper to task for printing a photograph which, he feels, has all the checks in boxes to qualify as Poverty Porn.
- Very cute, if impoverished, Haitian child? Check
- No shirt? Check
- Other cute, impoverished children, for context? Check
- Longing gazes upward (where you look down upon them and consider yourself gracious and merciful donor). Check
- Hands outstretched to receive help. Check
In other words, the photo falls rather neatly under the category of stereotypical images to which the VSO report referred — nearly ten years later after the report was written.
A fuller picture – or photograph
No one is denying that humanitarian crises exist in the developing world.
Ashley Jonathan Clements, photographer of the picture above, is “a nomadic aid worker with a passion for photography.” Although he must have witnessed more devastating scenes than most of us will ever do, his photographs on his website show a more balanced picture. (Do head over to his site and take a look.)
While Ashley is not a professional photographer, his photographs show a wider perspective of humanitarian situations.
The picture of the boy with a camera, for example, was taken in Haiti, at one of Port-au-Prince’s displacement camps – as was the picture in the Guardian article.
An uplifting key point from the VSO report:
More than half want the whole story: The strongest call is to media, particularly television. 55% of British people say they want to see more of the everyday life, history and culture of the developing world on television. They want to see the positives as well as the negatives, and they want context and background to a news story.
With today’s proliferation of travel blogs, it is important to remember that we are now all “media”.
So, the question is — are you conscious of how you photograph people?
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Random Nomad, Matt Collin!
Img: A Budding Photographer in the Midst of Camp Chaos by Ashley Jonathan Clements
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