Kevin Sites Watch - 3: Thumbs down for Kevin's Flickr Photo Journal

Why the thumbs down

Kevin's flickr photo journal of Haiti gets two thumbs down. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the pictures Kevin shows speak louder than any article.

The photo journal does what mainstream journalists usually do when they show Haiti: show the very worst and the very worst *only*. Some would argue that the shock created by the pictures helps bring attention to the problems. Hmmm... only partially. At this point Haiti is dealing with a "helplessly hopeless and darn right cursed" image that MSM tend to feed into.
Needless to say, why help the "helplessly hopless"? I almost regret the thumbs up I gave him for the vodoun story because the photo journal will no doubt have more of an impact than the article.

I recently wrote a DR of Congo blogger to ask him if I could use some of his pictures on DR of Congo public transportation on Global Voices. His answer: yes but under one condition: that the pictures not be used to promote what he called "povertyism". I told him not to worry. I knew all too well what he was referring to. Showing misery is one thing. Showing only misery and none of the self-help and hope is another. Can you imagine showing only Harlem's projects to report on New York? Or only the worst banlieues where buildings have no windows to represent Paris? That is just what Kevin Sites does in these pictures.

Call me crazy but "reporting" is not the same as one of those "the cost of a cup of coffee" Sally Struthers ads we're used to seeing on TV. There is something exploitative about the choice of pictures Kevin put in his Flickr photo journal, especially in comparison to the other countries represented on the photo journal.

A good alternative

Consider Martin Baran's recent pictures of Hinche, Haiti. Do they sugar coat anything? No. There is a picture of a smiling woman at a cybercafe, the chief means by which Haitians communicate with their relatives abroad. There is a picture of not necessarily wealthy women eaking out a living the best they can at the market. There are pictures of several local churches and schools. We get to see people *living their lives*, in the thick of the hustle and bustle of their daily routines, despite the terrible odds. Is that a fairer photo journal of the country? I'll let you answer that for yourself.

A recommendation for Kevin

Kevin can make up for this, however by devoting a story or two to a broader cross-section of Haiti's social strata. That would be groundbreaking! How accurate would reporting on the US be if it either showed *just* blacks or *just* whites? How accurate can reporting on Haiti be if it shows *just* one social stratum? Answer that for yourself and be forewarned that very little social diversity has indeed been portrayed in his coverage so far (as always in MSM). So much for "balanced" reporting. But there is still time and HotZones in Haiti can still redeem itself...

Moulin Sur Mer, HaitiMoulin Sur Mer, Haiti.

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Anonymous said...

Great post, Alice. I think this is what photographers too often do when they visit poor countries. I don't think it's out of malice, I think it's out of the need to turn human beings into art, which inevitably dehumanizes them. If you see the Kevin Sites photograph of the series of children standing in a slum, he chose it because the composition was cool, because of the pattern they made on the gravel. Art is always easy when you go for the most dramatic, which fine, I guess, but at the end of the day you do *not* get an accurate portrait of a society. I like Martin Baran's photoblog much better!

Alice B. said...

Thanks Jen,
Much appreciated. There are many many "artsy" pictures that can be taken of Haiti that do not involve piles of garbage. And I'm sure that can be said of most places on the planet.

John Powers said...

Hello, I liked to your post through a link from Africabeat. Thank you for posting a positive example via Martin Baran's blog. Thank you too for your general presumption of Kevin's goodwill.

This post is very instructive and encouraging to me. As a white American I try to share my interest in African affairs with other Americans. From my point of view I imagine I'm telling about struggles and accomplishments of people I know. But too often the feedback suggest to me I'm talking "povertyism" (a word I'm sure to use again).

Surely some of that is my own fault, and I do struggle to find better ways to present the importance and dignity of every person.

Your post is so encouraging because you assume people can learn to do better. Thanks.

Alice B. said...

Thanks,Kaunda, for reading and responding.