This past Friday, Save the Children ran a half-page advertisement on page A5 of The Washington Post. Judging by its words, the ad's purpose was to grab the attention of G-8 leaders meeting in Camp David last week. I'm not sure that happened but I'm sure it grabbed other peoples' attention. The left half of the ad is a picture of what appears to be Caucasian people, well-dressed and enjoying a fancy meal, four glasses of wine held aloft as if everyone's toasting. No one's full face is in the picture, just the smiling mouth of one of the diners. The right half of the ad is a picture of a young boy, likely African, looking a little dirty, apparently malnourished and with his ribcage showing. He's gazing directly at the camera, no expression on his face. Text runs across the two pictures: "WITH" in big white letters across the fancy diners and "OUT" in big red letters across the boy. The contrast between the pictures is stark.
The text below the pictures reads: "G-8 Leaders: What's on your menu this weekend? While you enjoy your first-class meals, more than 170 million kids are suffering from chronic malnutrition, in part because they don't eat the right variety of food. Producing more food in the world is good. But making sure kids eat the right food is even better. Change starts now. Take action at SaveTheChildren.org/Child-Survival." (The link leads to a page titled "Hidden Crisis: Malnutrition," which features the picture of the young boy and urges people to sign a petition. It appears that the ad targets the G-8 and the petition targets the general public.) Below this text there's a photo credit in tiny print. The Save the Children logo is in the bottom right corner of the advertisement.
I admire Save the Children and I think the organization does great work. However, I'm not posting the ad here because I think the photograph of the boy is sensational and lacking in dignity. In addition, the audience doesn't know anything about this boy, not his name or when the picture was taken, what his life is like or where he lives. The picture reminds me of those Sally Struthers ads from the '80s, the ones featuring poor and hungry kids with flies in their eyes. This is the type of picture we talk about avoiding in the CORE Group Humanitarian Photography Group I help lead.
What do you think of the picture in the ad? What are the ethics of using these types of photographs to garner support and awareness about humanitarian issues? Are these pictures effective in building support and awareness? Should organizations use these types of photographs in their communications materials? If so, when?
If you want to see the ad, you can view it on the U.S. Global Leadership Council Twitpic page.