Following the heightened media discussion last week about the poignancy of images I wanted to share an extract from my book - Learning through a lens in the hope that it might support teachers in the discussion of such images.
There have been many images which have been described as ‘iconic’ and that have influenced the thinking of thousands of people. The photograph of the young Syrian boy last week was one such devastating image. As adults we can respond to this and have the depth of emotional literacy to allow us to process this. How do we introduce our pupils to images of this nature? In fact should we introduce them to such images at all?
We live in a digital age where images are beamed almost instantaneously into our homes. Horrific images were shown of the bombs at the end of the Boston Marathon – heart wrenching, graphic but they told the world what was happening. If we had just been told that there had been a bomb would we have understood in the same way without the images or were the images too graphic and too upsetting to have been shown?
The Pulitzer Prize winning image by Kevin Carter referred to as ’waiting for a meal’ has been described as ‘a picture that stunned a somewhat complacent world’ The photograph was taken in the Sudan in 1993 and depicts a vulture that appears to be waiting for a starving child to die.
In interviews Carter stated that he waited about 20 minutes for the vulture to spread its wings. When it didn’t, he took this image and chased the vulture away. The image was first published in the New York Times and prompted many enquiries as to the fate of the child.
The newspaper subsequently ran an editorial in which they claimed that the child ‘walked away from the vulture but that her eventual fate was unknown.’
The questions raised from this are manifold but the image itself portrays a stark reality, children were dying due to malnutrition – did the world need to know and was this an effective way, or the best way, of conveying that?
The statements below are all about the Carter image - They can be printed off and cut up – give them out randomly and ask pupils to introduce their statement where appropriate in the discussion. By doing this they may actually have to argue a point of view which is different to the one that they actually believe in, thus encouraging empathy and looking at an issue from more than one point of view.
· Journalists and photographers in the Sudan at that time had been told not to touch famine victims because of the risk of disease - So he followed instructions.
· Carter has been heavily criticised and referred to as ‘another predatory vulture’ on the scene.
· Carter won the Pulitzer Prize for this image
· Carter committed suicide 3 months after the photo was taken.
· The vulture has been used as a symbol of oppression or representative of governments.
· At the time the image was taken the girl’s parents were receiving food from a UN plane and would return to the girl.
· The publicity generated by this photograph has been immense.
· Carter was suffering from depression.
· The girl was obviously very weak – Carter could have infected her and any food given to her could have been too rich and caused an adverse reaction.
· There were relief workers in the area.
· Carter waited 20 minutes before taking the photograph.
· Because of this image the world became aware of the atrocities in this region.
· ‘Sometimes I want to ask God why he doesn’t do something about world hunger – I don’t because I’m afraid that he might ask me the same thing’ Anon
· This image moved many to donate and so effectively saved the lives of many children.
There is a whole chapter in Learning through a lens about the ethics of Photography and the use of poignant images. Discussion around reporting wars, disasters and the concept of ‘Compassion fatigue’. This is a difficult concept to introduce into a classroom but as teachers we can provide a safe environment for children to develop their own emotional literacy.