Dorothea Lange in ‘The Ongoing Moment’ by Geoff Dyer said that ‘the camera is an instrument that teaches us to see without a camera’.
Photographs and video footage of starving Ethiopian children in 1984 led to a greater public awareness, which gained momentum when celebrities brought it more into the public eye with the Band Aid ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ single In the same year and Live Aid in 1985 which raised £30 million. Photographs of celebrities holding dying children undoubtedly brought the plight of the starving population into the living rooms of the Western World, and without them perhaps there would have been less prolific support for the fundraising.
Rather sceptically, however, I question what impact these photographs had on the profile and popularity of the celebrities who took part (see the image below which arguably depicts Bob Geldof as some kind of religious saviour through the use of black and white, the way he towers above everyone else who is sitting down, his long hair and casual pensive stride); as well as the question mark over how much of the money ended up funding weapons. I wonder whether we will ever know which had the greater impact – celebrity involvement, still photos, video footage, or a combination of all three.
Considering other images, I do struggle with the ethics of allowing graphically barbaric photos such as the image of an incinerated soldier to be available for all to see. In that instance I think descriptive text would have been more likely to provoke change than a descriptive image – which may have the opposite effect (ie the viewer having a reaction to the image itself rather than to the story behind it).