Two children play soccer on a field in Africa. But this is no regular game of soccer. Instead of a ball, they play with a skull. Instead of tattered clothes, they wear uniforms and machine gun belts. The game is played on a preverbal field of death. Does this picture truly show the horrors of war or does the image deceive us?
Since the advent of the fist cameras in the 19th century, photography has shaped the world around us. This is particularly true for Africa. Ever since early explorers entered in the continent to fight for colonial domination, pictures helped categorize Africa. Although colonialism in a traditional sense is over photographs have not lost their usefulness and power when defining Africa.
With the creation and proliferation of digital photography, how we photograph the world has forever changed. But the techniques employed to capture the perfect image have not. ISO, lighting and subject matter have huge effects on how the end product develops. Light is an especially power tool.
Photographers paint with it. It allows endless possibilities in manipulating how we see and perceive a photograph. It can add or subtract emphasis. You can strip away sadness from a mournful scene, or dampen a scene of celebration with the right use of light. With increased wireless technology and smaller more powerful speed light flashes, it is ever easier to do this. It is important that we are aware of this when looking at photographs of the developing world. While it may not be entirely obvious at first, if we continue to be ignorant of these techniques and fail to be critical, we may not be seeing the truth.
How we use our photo editing software has allowed us to develop images of the third world that perpetuate and solidify our conceptions. We can burn and dodge, add filters and airbrush subjects out of existence all at the flick of the wrist. This has complicated our relationship with the images that we encounter everyday. While these editing programs were new, many people were fearful and wary of the images that were produced from such software. As this software has become more mainstream and user-friendly we have loss that apprehension about the images that we create. We edit the photos to make them look “better” and to truly “represent” what we were seeing at that time. We boost colours or grayscale, making an image for others’ consumption. We often fail to think what are actions will have on how the outcome of the photograph and how others will perceive it.
Unlike other disciplines, photography does not have any hard ethical rules. While guidelines have been developed for various agencies and organization around the world, what is ethical and unethical in the world of photography is often filled with gray area. We can often fall into the trap of creating unethical images especially while shooting in the developing world. We often do not get consent – paying large sums of money into micro-local economies to get an image, and often never telling the subject of the photo how the image will be used.
Photographers have to become more conscious of how we take photographs and the effects they can have. We take for granted the power that such images have over our perception and how we interact with “developing” countries of the world. Images define the world, but we have the power to define the images that we use and shoot. Next time you see an image of the developing world, view it with a critical eye.