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August 3, 2011

A Feast of Famine Pictures From Somalia … and What a Photo “Ought to Do”

Salon inoculated itself and all the usual suspects via an article on the New York Times’ decision to run this haunting Tyler Hicks’ photograph on their front page. Times’ Executive Editor Bill Keller says photographs like this “ought to disturb us, at least.” But if that’s all he’s asking a photograph to do, to  deliver the “concern” in “concern photojournalism,” Keller (and Salon) are missing the point.

Hicks’ emaciated Somali child, like the child in this AP photograph which ran in an NPR article on Somalia last week, is the emblem, badge, symbol of countless famines, political upheavals, and ethnic unrest.  They are the bugaboo of every 6 year old who fails to down his or her broccoli from the 1950s on. We’ve seen so many of these children and our governments have done so little to stop the root causes of their misery, we don’t really see them any longer.  We turn away precisely because there is nothing we can easily do.  Their images become aestheticized into artful shots of near death wrapped in thin brown skin.  Keller and Salon are asking the reader, the visual consumer, to pay attention. Of course, these children (if still alive) need action.

Salon asks, “Can a Photograph Change the World?” When your expectations in this always on 24/7 news cycle are so low, the answer is: you’re asking the wrong question.

– Karen Hull

(photo: Tyler Hicks for The New York Times. caption: A malnourished child at Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia. More than 500,000 Somali children are verging on starvation. photo 2: AP. caption: Mihag Gedi Farah, a seven-month-old child with a weight of 3.4kg, is held by his mother in a field hospital of the International Rescue Committee, IRC, in the town of Dadaab, Kenya, Tuesday, July 26, 2011.)

  • Peter A. Calvin

    Charles Moore:  ”Photographs can and do make a difference.”  (Photo by Moore, Birmingham, AL, 1963)

  • Peter A. Calvin

    Charles Moore:  ”Photographs can and do make a difference.”  (Photo by Moore, Birmingham, AL, 1963)

  • tinwoman

    Disaster porn.  Now in HD.

    • Gingeranne1972

       Are you kidding me???!  How dare you make fun of this.

  • omen

    please help:

    The World Food Programme said it is reaching 1.5 million people in
    Somalia now, and is scaling up to reach 2.2 million more in the
    previously inaccessible south of the country. It says airlifts to
    Mogadishu will start within a few days to bring in special nutritious
    foods for malnourished children.

    Donate $10 by texting the word AID to 27722 or make a donation online


    UNICEF, the UN’s children’s organization, and its partners need more
    money to aid children in the Horn of Africa in the coming months.
    Immediate measures include child immunization campaigns and water and
    sanitation services to ward off disease.

    Text FOOD to UNICEF (864233) to donate $10, enough to feed a child
    for 10 days or provide 321 sachets of nutrient powder to boost infant
    survival and development, the aid group says.

  • Sueheide Santiago Zayas


  • Pingback: Famine and War in the Horn of Africa – The World's Got Problems

  • Aditya Misra

    ? for Huminity

  • Saroj Mishra

    wht a bad conditions in somalia

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