LONDON (AlertNet) - Aid agencies often struggle to find hard-hitting pictures - especially for fundraising - that show respect for their subjects and represent the complex reality of a food crisis without promoting stereotypes or incorrect assumptions.
For more on the debate going on in humanitarian circles about how best to tug at donor heartstrings without compromising the dignity of people caught up in crisis, see:
Following are tips for best-practice use of pictures in charity fundraising appeals based on guidelines drawn up by Save the Children and suggestions from aid workers at Imaging Famine, a September 2005 conference in London on the issue.
Show people with dignity
Don't reduce survivors to passive victims. For example, discouraged people waiting for aid or lying in shelters might only be part of the truth or may only show a brief moment in the development of an emergency. Groups rescuing neighbours might show a more accurate reality. So might women cooking or collecting water.
A matchstick-thin black child's fingers dwarfed by a benevolent white hand. Children - or anyone else - holding out bowls for help. Critics say such images perpetuate a colonial idea of incapable Africans waiting passively for help from their white saviours.
Show people in active roles
Try to find images of people helping their own communities, responding to crisis. In an emergency, communities can be remarkably resourceful and resilient. People build rafts, dig for neighbours, fetch water and cook for their families.
Not all aid workers are white
Many Western aid agencies recruit local staff in the countries where they work, so an image of a white doctor with a black child many give a distorted picture of reality.
Did the person want to be in the picture?
Ask yourself: "Would I want my picture, or my child's picture, to be used in this way?"
Don't twist reality
There is usually more than one reality, so this is a difficult one to decide. But don't crop a child's mother out of a picture to make a baby look more helpless. Worse still, don't put a child on the ground to give the impression of its being abandoned and unloved.
The captions of newspaper pictures and charity appeals often fail to give names when their subjects are poor and unknown. On the other hand, sometimes a child's full name shouldn't be printed for safety reasons.
Don't change names or places
Don't make up children's names or use a picture from one country to represent another.
Think about the consequences
Will the person's reputation or pride be damaged if you use the picture?
Put the picture in context
Try to explain where and when the picture was taken and what was going on. For example, a picture of a thriving market stall in a famine region shows the problem isn't necessarily about lack of food but about prices being out of reach of many people.
Pictures of naked children are rarely appropriate. Pictures of topless women should also be avoided in cultures where breasts are associated with sex and salaciousness.
Try to hire photographers from the region
It's hard for NGOs to find resources to pay photographers, and sometimes it's hard to find the right person at short notice, but working with photographers from the developing world can encourage local skills and get better images.
There are no set rules!
A picture that's appropriate in one place may not be in another. Agencies may be different from each other and need to represent those differences in images.