Sanna Nissinen – Documenting Suffering: The Production of the Charity Image

Event Date: Friday 5 November 2010, 9.30am – 5pm,
Sandra Burslem Building, Manchester Metropolitan University,
Manchester M15 6BH


Childhood and violence: international and comparative perspectives

Seminar 3: Aesthetics, ethics, politics: representations of violence against children

This seminar looks at violence and the visual in relation to childhood. It explores the different ways in which non-governmental organisations, the media and anti-war campaigns represent childhood suffering in the context of violence and how these representations intersect with discourses on childhood innocence to prevent the circulation of particular images of violence. It brings contemporary debate about the aestheticisation of suffering and the ethics and politics of representing “the body in pain” to the study of childhood.

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Sanna Nissinen (The Open University) – Documenting Suffering: The Production of the Charity Image

The central technology of communications messages in the development industry remains the photographic image. One of the more significant contemporary trends is the move away from the emotions of pity encouraged in traditional campaigning, to a shift to images of hopeful self-determination where the negative is discarded in favour of ‘deliberate positivism’ (Dogra 2007). Children are the ones most commonly portrayed and in the case studies of three NGO commissioned assignments conducted earlier this year in Bangladesh, they were also the ones most accessible, most willing to participate and valuable for communications needs of the charity’s visibility projects. They were active in the process, as mediator to the community and providing imaginative ‘new ideas’ to photo story. They reveal the dynamics of photographic participation and underlying issues with the larger NGO industry. This paper moves beyond the analysis of final images and the discussions framed within the positive/negative framework. It aims to challenge the rigid, binary formulation of photographic power which is assumed in discussions of photography and attempts to suggest a more complex dynamic in the process of picture making.

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