For the majority of my academic career, I have been interested in the images NGOs employ to represent the ‘developing’ world. Upon returning to Toronto a friend suggested I review an organization called Good Evidence, which challenges traditional ideas of development by producing alternative visual narratives. After our initial meetings in the beginning of 2010, I became a working board member. This week we had our first public event as an organization. We wanted to visually represent our ideas, and along with other materials, we created the collages posted above. These collages were meant to illustrate the many common images of ‘development’ and the ‘developing’ world. We felt grouping the images together were essential, as one image alone may not be inherently problematic but it is as a collective discourse that particular ideas are solidified.
Along with the collages we had a summary regarding why we find these images problematic and what Good Evidence is doing to try to address this issue.
Good Evidence materialized from a recognition that the developing world was being wrongly represented and oversimplified in the North American media. News broadcasting programs and charitable organizations employed images of helpless individuals in dire situations. The repetitive use of images and stories of wars, natural disasters, crying children, and adults dying of leprosy/malaria/HIV naturalized a single narrative for the developing world. In particular ‘Africa’ became associated with ‘’development’ and was represented as a place on the brink of collapse if not for North American aid. Good Evidence does not deny these situations exist. Rather, as an organization we strive to create a more complex narrative.
Why naked children from developing countries represent poverty while Canadian children (15% live in poverty) are left clothed?
Why African conflict is so often visualized and described as tribal, when the ongoing marginalization of Canada’s aboriginal population is not?
Why photo-ops with starving children by celebrities are legitimized as development?
Simplified representations, successfully affirm simplified solutions. Development from above in the form of water pumps, better housing and education become the main method of eradicating poverty. Celebrities become vehicles of perpetuating this myth of development. While clean water, better housing and education are surely needed, these solutions deny historical and structural aspects of poverty. We believe shifting representations, may help shift understandings of ‘development’. As stated by CCIC in their document ‘Ethical Representations’
‘Images of people as helpless victims perpetuate a myth that development problems can only be solved by Northern charity. They can undermine the efforts to create a broader understanding of the underlying structures causing poverty and injustice’.
It is through our videos and website content that we hope to challenge these negative and simplified images, offering images of complex individuals addressing their own situations.
It has been a great experience for me to be involved with attempting to create something practical based on the critical development/media theory I have become familiar with. I have begun to understand the complexities of putting critical theory to use, and how much easier it is to write about ideas in an academic setting in comparison to implementing them. If you are interested Good Evidence our homepage is www.goodevidence.com.