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Why Positive Images Must Prevail

Hope foundation, Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, India, toe painter
The time for ‘poverty porn’ has well and truly passed, in our view (if, indeed, there ever was one). Yet we still sometimes come across some very negative and degrading portrayals of people and places within development-related communications. As a visual communications company, we take our responsibility for representing people seriously. We believe that there’s already enough bad news and negative narratives surrounding certain countries and societies coming from mainstream media outlets, where sensationalist, shocking stories tend to be seen as more newsworthy or sellable. We strongly prefer to focus our lens on positive stories of change. Allow us to explain why.

Hope foundation, Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, India, toe painter
Positive images remind us of the resilience and determination at the core of the human spirit. Pughazhenthi, from Nagapattinam in South India, was born without arms. He is nevertheless an artist – a ‘toe painter’, to be precise – and his talented feet create beautiful handicrafts as well. He has also come first in the State of Tamil Nadu’s swimming competition for the differently abled, and holds a Masters in Economics and a Diploma in Computing. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”, he proclaims.

Hope, not despair

We believe that focusing on what your organisation is able to achieve, or the impact it’s already having, is more important and more effective in securing funding and support than focusing on problems can ever be.

There are still many organisations whose communications strategies seek to appeal to our senses of empathy and compassion as human beings, encouraging the feeling of pity for someone’s terrible situation in the hope that it’ll move us to want to help. We argue that focusing on poverty, suffering and loss alone reduces those whose stories we are the custodians of to passive ‘subjects’ of the development industry.

Through our images, films and other visual mediums, we prefer to present people as having the agency and capacity to transform their own lives, with just a little help. This is because, ultimately, the human spirit is underscored by resilience and determination, and it does a disservice not to portray this inspiring side of human nature.

Uniting us as humans

Positive representations of people and places can help to dispel misconceptions, challenge stereotypes and reveal commonalities between subjects and their viewers. High quality images and videos made by those we like to call ‘visual peacemakers’ can peel away perceived economic and cultural differences to powerfully demonstrate the shared characteristics, emotions and life circumstances that make us all human. To read more on this, head to our post about the Bengali communications school that was founded on this same reasoning.

Keeping dignity intact

Visually highlighting suffering and poverty alone can result in rather degrading, dehumanising and altogether distasteful images of people and their circumstances. Moreover, we strongly advocate for a shift away from the narrative of the ‘white saviour’, who arrives to lift people out of poverty.

Instead, we prefer to keep people’s dignity intact by creating positive visual stories of change and empowerment. We also take time to build relationships with the subjects of our videos and images and base the stories we weave on their own words as much we possibly can. Empowering people is not about telling their stories; it’s about giving them microphones to explain their own realities.
Communication for Development Ltd on assignment for World Renew in Uganda
Focusing on positive change allows us to keep the dignity of our subjects intact. We believe that empowering people involves giving them microphones to vocalise their own experiences, just as we did for these children supported by World Renew in Uganda.