Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Who owns the photographs?" Should poor countries do more to exploit their poverty in the media?

Should poor countries do more to exploit their poverty in the media? A
film by artist Renzo Martens asks thorny questions about photojournalists
and aid agencies.


A line of Congolese militia trudges through thick vegetation. All but a
few of them are skin on bones. "We need to show them the bodies," they
tell the cameraman following closely. They lead the way to a huge compound
dotted with a few huts. A number of swollen, fly-infested bodies lie here
and there. The Western photographers zoom in, clicking away rapaciously.
Then they kneel and reposition their camera lenses for a better shot.

Later on filmmaker Renzo Martens asks one of the photographers, "Who owns
the photographs?"

The slightly puzzled photographer replies, "Me."

"But they organised the situation," counters Martens.

"Yes, but it is me that chooses to make a picture out of the situation, so
it is mine," the photographer insists.

more at

"...Exploiting poverty

This is one of the many thought-provoking scenes in Renzo Martens's
documentary-style film 'Enjoy Poverty' being screened around Europe.
Martens is a Dutch artist who uses his film to protest against the
exclusion of the Congolese people from making money from a resource that
belongs to them. This resource is poverty.

He argues aid agencies and journalists alike generate the pictures of
Africa that we see for their own benefit, but do not make any real changes
in local communities. "There is no interest in changing the structural
issues," he says, "they [NGOs] want us to see a child suffering but they
do not show us that the parent is earning four dollars a week. It is
beyond their mandate."

Martens contrast the poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo with the
earning power of the media who are there to capture it. We see, for
instance, the plantation worker who earns 50 cents for three days of hard
labour. He has a severely malnourished daughter, and he and his family
survive by eating manoic [cassava] leaves. A Western photojournalist, on
the other hand, could earn 300 US dollars for a photograph portraying

In the film Martens convinces some Congolese wedding photographers that
they could earn similar amounts if they took photographs showing "rape,
death and malnutrition." However when they try selling their pictures to
the medical aid charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), they are rejected
because of their poor quality...."

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