Exercise – The Ethics of Aesthetics

Personally I think Chaskielberg’s work is a refreshing approach to documentary photography. I don’t think it is up to me to decide whether it is too beautiful or not, whether it does justice to the suffering these people go through or whether it is ethical for Oxfam to use such an approach in the first place. It obviously worked in raising a record amount of financial support.

Of course from here the discussion starts about the efficiency and sense of development aid in the first place, with its questions about dependency on aid, the business side of NGOs, how the money is spent and results in the long term.

What I miss in this discussion, is a connection with the West. In order to not be stifled by the images, or be able to make a significant change that goes beyond making a donation, I think photography and maybe campaigns that are targeted at people in the West should focus much more on how all our lives are intertwined through climate change, capitalism and overconsumption in the West. Instead of only focusing on how people in development countries live and suffer, these campaigns should activate the viewers in the West to not only donate money, but take responsibility for the way they live themselves.

For example, next to the daily food ration of an Ethiopian nomad, I would like to see an image of the amount of food we throw away on a daily basis, or the effect of our meat consumption on climate change.

I would like to see images that teach us viewers on how we should make a change, besides just triggering a short lived sympathy of making a donation.

All these approaches are still about ‘us’ and ‘them’, while the problems these people face are a result of how we live, and which we will face as well.

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