Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
My name is Yvonne Ekpe and I'm African, Black African and Nigerian to be precise. I woke up one morning and decided I want to build a career within the charity sector in International Development. To start my journey, I'm presently working as a Communications Intern at the Global Poverty Project, learning the ropes.
One of the first tasks I was assigned was to research and write this blog; exploring the use of images in charity advertising. As someone who is just venturing into the development world and lived most of my life in Nigeria, the staff at the Global Poverty Project said they wanted me to give a developing world view on the matter.
In this blog and two others, I'm going to share what I learnt, especially about negative images, which I saw lots of.
In my research I came across the terms "Poverty Porn", "Development Porn" and "Famine Porn". They all refer to images of people from developing countries, especially those of Black African origin, which are negative and undignified and focus on just their problems/conditions; portraying a subjective and one sided view in an attempt to raise awareness, acquire support and/or donations.
I'd never heard the term before, but I'd seen the images, and in my research I came to learn some of the techniques for it:
- Images, particularly of crying and/or sickly looking children, staring wide eyed up into the camera, often with the stereotypical use of flies buzzing around their faces.
- A voice-over describing what's happening in the picture or video and slow, sad music playing in the background.
- Misleading/inappropriate captions or texts giving context to the image(s). For example, 'If you have brown eyes, you are more likely to die young' -from a charity that does incredible work on behalf of children [The publication was later banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).]
I saw all sorts of images in my research, and below I've shared three that show just how differently you can show babies:
Source 1 - Save the Children
Source 2 - Merlin
Source 3. Concern Worldwide
It's obvious why charities use these images and I understand the importance of their causes. I know it's a real challenge to get people to care enough to give and/or support especially in these times of recession; and I commend charity fundraisers working tirelessly to ensure funds and support are available for varying development projects.
These sorts of images do have the desired effect on me as a human, as I'm sure they do on you, because they depict human suffering and injustice. But as an African, rather than evoking just empathy and pity, some of these images evoke other feelings in me such as disgust and anger. And I dare say this is not the intention of any well-meaning fundraiser.
Having lived most of my life in Nigeria and knowing first-hand the development challenges faced by Nigeria and Africa, I feel the portrayal of people of African descent and others in the Global South exploited in this way is a bit skewed; one-sided like the single story Chimamanda Adichie spoke about in her TEDtalk.
We've got issues in Africa, probably more so than any other continent, but in spite of these people are hopeful and work hard; they don't just sit around listlessly waiting to be rescued!
Too many adverts portray the people in them as victims concentrating just on their suffering, disease and despondency rather than showing them as everyday people who need the right type of support to overcome the challenges they face.
And I'm by no means saying that charities don't impact on the communities they work in because they do - but at what cost?
The adverts invoke my pity and desire to help, but greater still is the anger I feel. According to one charity worker I spoke to, "If we are looking to build long term relationships with our donors we want those relationships to be founded on hope rather than guilt and on inspiration instead of despair." Wouldn't you agree?
Would it not be more productive in the long term to have advertisements that tell the whole story? That give the public a realistic and true picture of communities and people depicted in these advertisements. Wouldn't this make it easier for people to make informed decisions about supporting charities, particularly in the long term?
Over the next few weeks, I will delve deeper into the matter and talk about the motivation behind the use of seemingly negative images, based on conversations I had with around a dozen charity fundraising staff.