Research Point: Debates around photojournalism

There are interesting parallels between the debate around socially driven photographers and also images of conflict and a similar debate twenty years ago as to whether pictures of starving children in drought hit parts of Africa were exploitative or a necessary way to raise awareness and assistance.
Pictures of starving children are rarely used by charities working in the field these days; they seem to prefer more positive images of what can be achieved rather than look at failure. But the original images of children served a purpose; they brought to the world a new realisation of what was happening elsewhere. I guess the same applies to the Lewis Hine photographs. As with Sontag’s comments on the pictures of the horrors of war numbing viewers responses, so ‘compassion fatigue’ was said to have set in when pictures of starving children were much more commonplace.
I’m not so sure that Rosler was criticising the photographs of Hine and others per se, more the way in which they were used – to achieve reform of the system rather than a radical restructuring of society.
This does lead us to an interesting conclusion – horrific pictures of war or starving children do have the ability to provoke concern, horror, desire to help/do something, etc. – but as they become more commonplace then they lose that ability to stir passion. Therefore this is not about the quality of the photos or even about what they are showing, but more about the frequency with which they are shown (echoes of the ‘flood’ referred to Earlier in the chapter) which leads to a conundrum for photographers (and campaigners) to find new images that will provoke compassion/cause for concern whenever they are seen.