Beyond the camera lens
2nd November 2020
Jo Dallas, Media Officer at Christian Aid Scotland, offers her thoughts on our recent training event 'Ethical and empowering use of imagery' that she attended which gave participants the chance reflect on, discuss and develop responsible strategies for the use of images in our sector.
Recently I was selecting a photo for a national newspaper to reflect our continued emergency response in Lebanon, following additional funding from the Scottish Government’s Humanitarian Fund. Our digital library had been updated with images from one of our partners in Beirut and I was looking for an image that provoked a strong emotional response but that would add to the narrative about the unfolding and urgent situation in the city following the explosion (and how Christian Aid is responding).
It was much harder than I thought to make this selection. At one stage, as my teenage daughter wandered past the kitchen table (my ‘working from home space’) I asked her what the photos on my screen made her feel, which ones stood out and we discussed the images that provoked a strong emotional reaction.
As it turns out the newspaper didn’t use the photo I finally selected. But the point of my story is that it reminded me how challenging it is to select the right image, the responsibility that goes with this decision and how photos are interpreted differently by different people. As the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand stories. But they must be the right stories. And there is a responsibility to the person pictured, even if they live in a city 3200 miles away (in the case of Beirut). Photos capture a moment in time and we must ensure integrity and truth are at the core of every decision made around their future use.
When I saw that the Alliance was running a workshop in October on ethical photography I didn’t hesitate to sign-up. It was an invaluable and informative session. Catriona Knapman (as facilitator) really challenged our thinking and the break-out discussions (where e.g. we looked at a selection of photos of women to ascertain which images we felt most represented empowerment) made me reflect on the responsibility we have working for an International Development Organisation to carefully consider the images we select, so that above all else they reflect our shared humanity and inter-connectedness. We also looked at the participatory photography model and the thought processes that go alongside this, about power dynamics and informed consent.
I’m using words to tell the story here, not pictures. But if I was to choose 5 pictures what would they be? Of course, there is no ‘right’ answer. But what is fundamental is the process that underpins each selection. In a media role you are often under pressure to make quick decisions, but they should always be true to the core goals of the organisation you work for. At Christian Aid our values are dignity, equality, justice and love. And these values should be reflected in every single photo chosen to represent our work and inspire support.
If you are an alliance member, you can login and re-watch this interactive workshop on Ethical and empowering use of imagery here.