Inside Oxfam

Posted: February 3, 2014 in Modernity & Network Culture
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Oxfam photoI came across this Oxfam campaign and was immediately interested in the photograph, particularly after our lecture on photography. The Oxfam message is clear – overseas aid isn’t working. I did think though, that there could be a white western person standing there, holding food from a food bank, and the message could still be relevant – a campaign waiting to happen!

As for objectivity, every viewer when looking at this photograph will see something different and the viewer, whether consciously aware of it or not, will bring a cultural, social and historical bias that means they will view the photo is a particular way.

In this photograph, gone is the Huxley and Lamprey approach to anthropomorphic photography. You do not feel that they have disregarded the person’s feelings. She is not naked, exposed, docile, scientific (traits of the photographs of aboriginal women from the Victorian scientists Huxley and Lamprey). If anything we can see the French anthropologist Bonaparte’s theories in this photo. In his book ‘Les Habitants de Suriname a Amsterdam’ (1884) his portraits of Indian women showed them in ‘festive costume of their people and from the viewpoint that highlighted her pensive beauty’ (Anne Maxwell, 1999, p44)

The photographer has captured, from my viewpoint, a strong, proud and beautiful woman. There is no trace of the helpless, starving, skeletal pictures that prompted ‘Live Aid’. Here is a woman who has been photographed from Thun’s perspective. He believed that it was a photographer’s duty to ‘use photographs as an accurate record of artefacts and clothing as they appeared in their original contexts, before they were sacrificed to the forces of cultural assimilation’ (Anne Maxwell, 1999, p52)
Thun also believed in natural lighting and made use of the developments in shutter speeds during the late 1800’s. The photograph above also uses light to enhance the natural setting behind the woman.

This photograph, with all the historical bias and cultural undertones, has been taken with western eyes in mind. The woman is dressed in the clothing of her culture. This might be seen as ‘ethnic’ clothing. Her jewellery is tasteful and works with the outfit (I know I sound cynical but western eyes will notice these aspects because of beauty and fashion advertising campaigns in the West)! I think as a result of the photograph (and the very clear written message), we take away with us the feeling that we are ‘on her side’ against greedy western democracies! What is really clever about the photograph is that although the woman holds her hands out (in an almost begging pose), her face and pose is still one of strength and pride. We don’t pity her, we agree with her and there is a feeling that we are ‘in this together’. It is difficult to separate the photograph from the words but it is clear that the photograph has to represent a strength and unapologetic posture that makes us believe that things are unfair and unequal for many of us irrespective of the hemisphere we live in and the colour of our skin.

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Comments
  1. Gillian Swanson says:

    You’ve given a persuasive account of the image, and draw in some of the points from the reading, though you would have strengthened the piece if you had outlined the way colonial photography worked per se rather than drawing in those points as you discuss the image, which is confusing.

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