I do not want to see another photo essay, multimedia or any visual on dying Africans. Never, ever again.  Enough. I understand that it makes for compelling images, that it seems that the photographers cares, but it present such a distorted vision of this beautiful continent. Not every country is at war, not every African is an orphan dying of aids or malnutrition. Not everyone lives in a broken down shaft wearing nothing more than rip jeans.

But from here, from the United States of America, a country which is still very much struggling with its very, very  racist past, it is just not sending the right message. It is actually saying “look, Africa is this continent full of malnourished savages with hatchets dying of aids because they are uneducated”. It is the biggest, longest, most powerful brainwashing operation that photojournalists have gladly contributed to with open arms.

This ongoing belief, supported by photo festivals like Visa and others, that photojournalism is all and only about blood, decay, despair and endless wars has found in Africa an endless feeding ground.

Although most of these images do not lie, it is not the Truth. This is not Africa. It would be like putting a loupe on a beautiful dress and  only continuously showing its one flaw.

The reason is clear. It is mainly because of NGO photojournalism. Rich people give money to NGO’s who then hire photographers to document their work. And since they operate in poor, war and disease stricken area of Africa, that is all we get to see these days. And because of the continued lack of funding of the editorial press, we will probably see even more, not less.

Just imagine your perception of America if all you would see were images of  9/11, Katrina, Detroit, urban ghettos and nothing else. Don’t laugh Europe, we could do the same with you. Would you ever consider going there on vacation ?

Africa, or at least it’s despair, has become the playing ground of the new photojournalists. Like a badge of honor, you’re not a real photojournalist if you have not covered at least one desolate part of the continent. The results is thousand upon thousand of reportages , essays, multimedias, especially online, repeating the same stories to a saturation point. No wonder magazines will not publish them even if some are extremely brilliant. They are, as the readers, fed up.

In  a way, photojournalism is killing itself by over repetition. Ironically, it is also deforming our view of the world by being so stubbornly surgical and mono sighted. It is replacing reality with cliches, destroying what it tries to explain.

So please no more images of half naked dying soldiers full of flies under an imponderable sun, no more death looking eyes on top of an extremely malnourished 3 year old, no more images of Kalashnikov-wearing tweens walking barefoot on dirt pathways amid the empty Savannah. It will end up making everyone look the other way, if it hasn’t already. Make us hope, make us want to get involved. Don’t disgust. You are not better, or more useful, because you took pictures of it and we didn’t. If you keep this up, it’s not Africa that will disappear first, but those who try, so poorly, to make us aware of its plights.

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6 Thoughts on “Dying in Africa

  1. Patrick-

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked on assignment in third-world countries and I’ve had to explain to my clients time and again why I returned with photos of real live people and not bodies in gutters.

    We have lots of work to do.

    I found this video of a director I’ve worked with in the past. He shot it in Ghana and I think he found something bigger there.

  2. I’ve been saying this for a while, glad someone else is picking up on it.


    There are happy stories here in Africa, it’s just not the cool thing to do I guess.

  3. Photographer extraordinaire Daniel Milnor has posted his comment on his blog:

    read it here : http://smogranch.wordpress.com/

  4. I agree, I think it’s so important when approaching an issue to come from a point of view that shows optimism and truth, not just the dirty sad stuff. Photographs should lift people up, not keep them down.

  5. This is not about Africa but about the Southern Philippines, officially a war- and poverty stricken area. With 35% of the population below the poverty line, and in some areas 65% (2$ per day per family) one could expect corpses laying all over the street.

    That isn’t the case at all. People in general are fat and thriving, and walk around with fancy cellphones (a must-have) a Westerner can’t afford. The secret, in all emerging economies, is that the real trade and business is done under the radar of the Government statistics hunters.

    In the giant Wet Market building of Cagayan, fish, rice, fruits, pork traders work and do business all day and even the expensive food departments of Malls buy there. Nothing is registered: no income tax, no sales tax, no number collectors.

    NGO’s (50% overhead costs) in their fancy super-aircooled 4WD’s roam the streets for poverty and please their donors-market back home (and ensure their survival) and can’t find any. You’ll have to pay some actors to get the shots that you “need”.

  6. mattbr on October 8, 2009 at 6:35 am said:

    Paul, you’re getting the symptoms right, but I totally disagree with the diagnosis. The illness runs much, much deeper than just NGO’s, and is linked to the extreme laziness of the field more than anything else. The colonialist attitude existed way before the current generation, and has been perpetuated for a whole set of reasons that are far removed from advertorial photography seeping into the editorial space. And yes, esteemed colleagues. What we’re doing when MSF or the Red Cross don’t pay us to photograph in a refugee camp is advertising, not journalism, no matter how much we think the product we’re pushing is respectable and saves lives. As such, it has absolutely no place in the editorial section of an information source.

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