Category Archive: ngos
As a followup to our discussion with MSF’s Jason Cone and VII’s Ron Haviv, consider bidding for a print to benefit VII and MSF. The auction is live until Dec. 9 and there are a lot of beautiful prints available.
While you’re at it, look at MSF’s coverage of the cholera outbreak in Haiti, featuring the work of Ron Haviv, Moises Saman, Jake Price, and Gregory Vandendaelen. Haviv’s also been sending updates by twitter, including word that misinformation is running high and journalists and aid workers have been attacked.
“But surely at least we who work in journalism can do a public service by treating humanitarianism the same way we treat other powerful public interests that shape our world. Too often the press represents humanitarians with unquestioning admiration. Why not seek to keep them honest? Why should our coverage of them look so much like their own self-representation in fund-raising appeals?” -Philip Gourevitch, “The Moral Hazards of Humanitarian Aid: What is to be Done?“
Philip Gourevitch has an interesting piece on the New Yorker News Desk blog that ends with difficult questions about how journalists cover, or even work directly for, humanitarian aid agencies. I’ve written in the past about the Nieman Journalism Lab’s efforts to discover exactly how journalists and NGOs navigate the murky waters between journalism and propaganda and PR and fundraising and reportage. It’s a question that needs more and more examination as NGOs, charities, and humanitarian agencies become the primary supporters of visual journalism. I’ve got no answers, not least because I’ve done so little work with NGOs. Perhaps a few of you out there can share your perspectives here.
I’ve enjoyed watching Starved for Attention unfold after I first heard about it. The campaign is a multimedia partnership between VII and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). The project aims to raise awareness about the global malnutrition crisis. It’s an ambitious and far-reaching project, and the website is substantial: video and photos by Marcus Bleasdale, Jessica Dimmock, Ron Haviv, Antonin Kratochvil, Franco Pagetti, Stephanie Sinclair, and John Stanmeyer; calls to action; and a blog with periodic updates on the campaign and additional information about malnutrition.
I managed to snag a few moments (over email) with Jason Cone, executive producer of the Starved for Attention films and MSF’s Communications Director based out of New York, and Ron Haviv, one of VII’s founding members. I wanted to ask the two about how NGOs and photographers work together, how a campaign such as this is produced, and how NGOs and journalists work to get stories out to a wide audience within such a fractured media environment.
First, could you tell us a bit about the project. We’ve seen the website, but what other components does it have?
Jason Cone/MSF: Besides the websites, there have been multimedia exhibits of the documentaries as well as still images slideshows in New York City, Toronto, and Milan. We are planning additional exhibits in the coming months in Washington, DC; France; Switzerland; Greece; Italy, Belgium; Canada; and the UK. Other countries may be added as well. We are also making plans to present some of the films in several West African countries in the Sahel region, a major malnutrition hotspot. These showings will take the form of conventional museum exhibits along with presentations in major public spaces or even mobile trucks displaying the films. We recently created an “Action Kit” that allows the general public, students, and others to screen the films on their own and put on a Starved for Attention event to spread the word about malnutrition and join our international petition drive to rewrite food aid policy. The kit can be ordered at the Starved for Attention website here: http://www.starvedforattention.org/action-kits.php
MSF has been commissioning documentary photography for some time. How does documentary photography fit into the organization mission and goals?
MSF: MSF has been working with photographers almost since our inception in 1971. Some of the most significant and planned earlier collaborations took place with the photographer Sebastiao Salgado in Ethiopia during the 1984 famine, and with the late French photographer Didier Lefevre, who embedded with our clandestine medical teams crossing over from Pakistan into Afghanistan in the 1980s. Lefevre’s work resulted in several photo books, and the graphic novel trilogy the Photographer, which Lefevre co-authored with Emmanuel Guibert and Frederic Lemercier. (http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/events/exhibits/thephotographer/). We have worked with hundreds of other photographers over the years.
The impetus for our collaborations with photographers is that while our main priority as an organization is providing direct medical care and assistance to people struggling to survive amid conflicts, natural disasters, and epidemics in more than 60 countries around the world, we aren’t so bold to believe that our response alone is sufficient to alleviate the suffering inflicted by conflict and disease. When assistance is not enough to save lives or we face obstacle to providing aid to these populations, MSF speaks out from the perspective of what our medical teams are witnessing on the ground. Often it is photographs of an emergency that act as a catalyst for action. And the best photographers can open the eyes of the world to the suffering of people languishing in the shadows of forgotten wars and neglected diseases. This is definitely the case with a largely invisible crisis like childhood malnutrition.
I know VII and MSF have worked together before. Where did the impetus for this project come, from VII or from MSF?
MSF: Malnutrition is medical priority for MSF. We treat hundreds of thousands of children every year. Over the past few decades, the image of emaciated, fly-ridden children on the brink of death from famines and other catastrophe has come to define the visual representation of childhood malnutrition. And in this media saturated world, flush with information documenting the daily toll of human suffering, it is understandable that a visual immunity has developed as a line of defense against this clichéd imagery provoking any kind of an emotional response to tackle the crisis of childhood malnutrition head on. It was in this context that we challenged VII to capture a new visual identity for malnutrition. We had the strong experience of working together in Congo, and this offered another compelling opportunity for collaboration between VII and MSF.
Who was driving the editorial message behind it?
MSF: This was true collaboration with VII in the sense that we identified together the places to send the photographers. It was up to the photographers to find the stories. They worked alongside MSF teams in Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Congo, and India. In Mexico, US, and Bangladesh, the photographers were going after the story through other contacts and we really relied on them to find the images and footage that would bring the story home.
At the same time, I see each film as a chapter in a book. With Marcus Bleasdale piece from Djibouti, you see through the eyes of an MSF team the frustration that no matter how many children they treat this crisis is so much bigger than the response of one organization. Then we go to Burkina Faso with Jessica Dimmock to see the malnutrition through the experience of one mother, and to Bangladesh and India with Ron Haviv, and Stephanie Sinclair, respectively, to the heart of the malnutrition crisis in South Asia, and then the war zones of Congo, and finally to Mexico and the US where we see how early childhood malnutrition has been virtually wiped out with national level programs.
Bangladesh – Terrifying Normalcy / Ron Haviv and MSF
Ron Haviv, how did you get involved in the project?
Ron Haviv: Several VII photographers including myself had been looking for a follow up to our Congo project.
How does a project like this get put together? Where does the funding come from? I see LG is a sponsor–what does that mean (money, technology, staff, distribution?)?
MSF: LG’s support for Starved for Attention came after the project had already entered development in terms of the field work. Their willingness to not only support Starved for Attention but also provide funds for MSF’s malnutrition field programs bridges the two critical aspects of our work—providing assistance and speaking out. LG provided a $500,000 grant to this end, and also television screens to make the exhibits possible. Their support opened the doors to the multimedia exhibits, which was not in the original conception of the project. The project was originally solely intended for online distribution.
How does an NGO/photojournalist work with corporate sponsorship?
MSF: LG has been very easy to work with in the sense that they have been responsive to our requests for additional TV screens and other technology to support exhibits as opportunities have arisen.
Haviv: I don’t think that there is large differentiation between working for traditional media which is solely based on advertising and direct sponsorship. In actuality projects such as these give us more control over who we are funded by.
Who is involved in the production? How long did it take from the first ideas to the final product?
MSF: MSF and VII worked together with a production called Herzliya Films. The photographers and MSF project staff were in the editing rooms with Herzliya throughout the process. The project was first discussed with Ron and Stephen Mayes, managing director of VII, in January 2009. It took us about 9 months to identify all the locations, make the appropriate contacts, and schedule the photographer visits. The field work was completed in early January 2010, and the film production ran from early March and the project was launched online and in an exhibit in New York City on June 2.
Who is the intended audience for this project?
MSF: The audience ranges from the general public to policymakers. As mentioned, we will be screening the films in West Africa during a meeting of the West African Health Organization in Ivory Coast. We have sent the films to policymakers and key decision-makers at the World Food Program, World Bank, and other important players in the field of malnutrition programming.
What is the goal of the project?
MSF: The project aims are awareness raising about the issue of malnutrition—the scope of the problem but also how it is a preventable and treatable conditions with existing tools and strategies—and the petition to pressure the top food aid donor countries to ensure they provide food assistance that meets the nutritional standards and needs of young children.
Is the goal of the project to get donors, and if so which kinds? People off the streets? How do you know that the intended audience has been reached?
This project is not driven by an ambition to increase donors or fundraising. It is purely meant to advocate on behalf of the children affected by this crisis. We know we will reach the public through the website, media coverage, and events over the coming the months. We also know through direct feedback from policymakers that they are hearing our message from the project.
Where are you marketing the project? How are you getting people to know about it?
MSF: We are marketing the project in the various cities and regions where exhibits are being held. We are doing direct outreach to our donors and supporters online through email newsletters, Facebook postings, and a concerted social media campaign through Twitter (MSF-USA, MSF-UK, MSF_canada, and MSF_Australia). The more grassroots efforts with the Action Kit will take hold in the coming weeks as supporters of Starved for Attention put on their own events.
Is the general public tired of stories of starving people in far-off places? If so, how do you combat this indifference and disinterest as an organization/photographer?
MSF: I think we have tried to combat this fatigue with compelling stories about the problem but also real solutions that exist today. We are not talking about a condition requiring a new vaccine to prevent it. We know if we can find ways to get nutritious foods in the hands of mothers and the mouths of young children who need it most we can save lives right now.
Haviv: Successful stories, messages and communication occur when the photographer is able to humanize the people in the images. When someone is able to digest a statistic like 195 million and relate it to a story that touches them we are able to succeed.
Read on »
‘You must also ensure you show the effect of the NGO’s work rather than just the vulnerable members of society and their stories,’ [David Graham] says. ‘Providing such context is extremely important as otherwise you are just picturing misery without suggesting a solution – which in this case is the work of the NGO.’ -Telegraph “Common Goals“
The Telegraph has an interview/feature with David Graham, the photographer behind Changing Ideas, an organization which works with NGOs and photographers to develop communications strategies for the organizations. As we’ve mentioned previously photographers working with NGOs is relatively new and unexplored terrain. As NGOs fill the gap left by news media in funding and using photojournalism, Changing Ideas‘ mission will become more important.