Image courtesy of Duncan McNicholl

Quick hit via Metafilter: Duncan McNicholl has undertaken a really cool experiment. Tired of the pervasive philanthropy photos that depict the impoverished as incapable—i.e. “the teary-eyed African child, dressed in rags, smothered in flies,”—McNicholl is taking pictures of Malawians as they want to be seen. It’s really heartening to see someone address the systematic difficulties of development work, but also try to change the ingrained narrative surrounding the human beings that benefit from it. He writes:

The truth is that the development sector, just like any other business, needs revenue to survive.  Too frequently, this quest for funding uses these kind of dehumanizing images to draw pity, charity, and eventually donations from a largely unsuspecting public.  I found it outrageous that such an incomplete and often inaccurate story was being so widely perpetuated by the organizations on the ground – the very ones with the ability and the responsibility to communicate the realities of rural Africa accurately.

I’ve done some traveling in developing countries, and have several friends and family members that work to tell stories of empowerment, not exploitation, from the developing world. We do ourselves a disservice by relying on such flat narratives, and they reinforce cultural boundaries that assume people are helpless without the support of the Western world. More often than not, “save the children”-styled ad campaigns just create more of a divide between the donor and the beneficiary. Kudos to McNicholl for trying to tell a different story with his “Perspectives of Poverty” series (The first post is here). I’m looking forward to seeing more.

Also, I’d love to see recommendations of charities/NGOs that try to use a narrative of empowerment to tell their stories. Please feel free to post exemplary groups in the comments!