Conveying dignity through photos

January 9, 2013

In 2011 international nonprofit Action Against Hunger got written up in The New York Times after unveiling its new magazine-based PSA campaign where it made a big shift away from showing starving children to other images that would surprise people with a bit of cognitive dissonance, making them think about global hunger in new ways.

Geoffrey Glick, director of external relations, said the organization is “trying to communicate in a more positive, upbeat way, focus more on the solution and less on an actual distancing image of a child with an illness so removed from our world.”

I have been thinking of this now almost two-year old visual reframing effort lately, having just resurfaced from the usual holiday deluge of ads on buses, in print, in the mail from anti-hunger and other organizations serving the needy. The standard (and largely effective when it comes to my family) approach is to guilt people in this consumption bonanza time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas with images of those who are in need, just outside the circle of plenty.

For those groups serving the needy, Action Against Hunger’s revised approach in 2011 carries an important message for nonprofit communicators:  Photos and video convey as much about the subject as they do about the organization’s or photographer’s attitude toward the subject. When dealing with the poor, the ill and other vulnerable members of society, always treat your subjects with the dignity they deserve.

This is the best way to say, “Thanks for letting me take your picture.”

Liz Banse

*Photo courtesy Flickr user IMChaundry