Picturing literacy, education, and global development: What I'm reading

I want to put together a weekly post of links to photography, education, and global development, particularly when all three intersect. 

Developing world education is failing, it's time to open up to the private sector - Challenging article in the Guardian that is a little short on examples and evidence, but strong on message. Long story short, I don't think we have enough evidence on private sector approaches to schooling in a development context. Education is an ideological battleground, but it is also an empirical and research-based one. 

At What Point Does A Fundraising Ad Go Too Far? - Following on from the #DexPix chat a while ago, NPR Goats & Soda suggests that poverty porn is back. However, I think it never really left, and has largely changed its form. 

Syrian army photographer describes torture and murder in Assad’s prisons - From the Guardian. "The photographer, identified only by his codename Caesar, is now a refugee in Europe and fears he will be 'eliminated' for the most damaging exposure of Syrian state violence since the uprising began in 2011, according to a book by the French journalist Garance le Caisne".

Humans of Syria - I really like this series from IRIN that doesn't position refugees as hapless migrants, but as people, who are educated, professional, and ambitious. It is a very good example of using photography and stories to change perspectives and narratives.

London-centric - A fascinating look from above of London from the BBC.

The photograph of a dead Eritrean boy that failed to cause action

On 20 April 2015, a boat carrying nearly 100 refugees ran aground near the island of Rhodes. The photographer Argiris Mantikos produced an image of a female survivor being helped by a Rhodesian man. It was labelled "the image that defined a week of tragedy". Antonis Deligiorgis is a Greek soldier, and on that day, was responsible for saving 20 refugees from the sea. He was awarded the Cross of Excellency in a ceremony at Athens by the Defence Minister. That same weekend, an estimated 700 refugees were feared dead, as another boat capsized south of the Italian coast. David Cameron described it as "a very dark day for Europe" and held people smugglers responsible. 

These boats were packed with Syrians and Eritrean "migrants" travelling via Egypt and Libya. The GuardianIndependentMashable, The Atlantic, and others spoke of a "migrant crisis" in April. Five months later, another tragedy, the same sea. The image of Aylan Kurdi has galvanised public opinion, changed the discourse of migration, and perhaps even changed public policy.

This week, tens of thousands of people around major Australian cities gathered for a candle light vigil and a message: #RefugeesWelcome. European citizens from Iceland, Austria, Germany and the UK are opening up their homes and cheering the arrival of refugees at train stations. Many media outlets that were only recently using the term "migrant" to described these people and this crisis have diligently switched to "refugee". 

The image that did not define that day in April off the shoreline of Rhodes was also produced by Argiris Mantikos. Three people died that day, including a young child. Warning: this image is of a dead child. It is your choice to view it or not. It is eerily similar to that of Aylan and Turkish policeman Mehmet Ciplak. However, the unidentified man is Greek and pictured in a small boat, kneeling on the bow with a lifeless body in his arms. The child is wearing a beanie. There is no face visible. No skin except that of a single tiny, limp hand.

It is difficult to find any more information about this image. A Norwegian media outlet, NRK, ran a story that gives the names of those in the photograph. (Google translated). Elyud was 6 years old and from Eritrea. His uncle, Yonas Amanuel Issack, also lost his 37-year old sister that same day. Issack lives in on the island of Hitra in Norway. He was already living on Hitra at the time of this tragedy, where an estimated 30-40 Eritreans also reside. It was suggested that Elyud and Issack's sister were on their way to join him.

Human Rights Watch described Eritrea's human rights as "dismal" and the country as lacking a functioning legislature, independent press, and civil society since 2001. In July, the organisation identified the majority of people arriving in Europe to be from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Iraq. Five countries of severe repression, violent conflict, and human rights abuses. 

Few media outlets ran the image of Elyud. Most appear to have run with the image of a shirt-less and soaked Deligiorgis and the unnamed Eritrean woman. There were some waves across social media, with a number of Twitter users sharing the image of Elyud. (Again, warning). But, a name was never attached. "Child" and "mirgrant" were the descriptors. No gender. No nationality. Elyud's story was never told except on NRK's website. It is an incomplete narrative, an example of the inequality of narratives. The world was not ready for Elyud; to make him the defining image of a crisis that has no end in sight. 

The Curious Case of Instagram and the Fake Migrant

Abdou Diouf took 15 photographs and 1 video, documenting his migration from Senegal to Spain. He posted them on Instagram and went viral. Diouf racked up over 12,000 followers in a few days with hundreds of comments ranging from disbelief and scepticism to adoration and well-wishing. 

Source: Diouf's  Instagram  account

Source: Diouf's Instagram account

Hagi Toure is a professional European handball player who lives n Catalonia, Spain. His Instagram account is more modest in terms of followers, but features 173 photographs. 

Source: Toure's Facebook  account , publicly available images

Source: Toure's Facebook account, publicly available images

Diouf and Toure are the same person.

No, this is not a feel-good story of a migrant overcoming poverty, exclusion and international borders to become a professional athlete in Europe. Depending on your perspective, this is either a damaging hoax or a subversive photographic project. 

Toure performs as Diouf in those 16 posts, leaving many feeling deceived. The BBC picked up the story, calling the account "a fake" and a "hoax". The deception was first revealed on disphotic, a blog from London College of Communication lecturer Lewis Bush. He sensed "something wasn't quite right". Bush and a colleague identified inconsistencies in the backgrounds and events of the images, and the name itself was apparently a clue. "Abdou Diouf" is also the name of one of Senegal's presidents, who is already being relegated on Google's search rankings. Bush and his colleague then examined Diouf's contact list and found Toure, comparing the facial features of each man. The culprit was found. Hagi Toure, in Catalonia, with an iPhone. 

It was later revealed that the account was promotion for the GETXOPHOTO festival in northern Spain. The festival "supports the exploration of formats, stands and unconventional exhibition spaces to show the different images." This particular project/promotion was intended to challenge viewers attitudes towards migrants coming into Europe. All the photographs for the account were taken with Toure around Barcelona on an iPhone in one day. 

There are two interesting notes about this to make. First, in the reactions to the revelation is an underlying current about truth and photographs. Actually there are two currents. One, is that photographs, generally, are indexical. That they represent a single, unproblematic reality. Two, that photographs also lie, be faked and manipulated.  However, these currents don't flow in and out, but run against and through one another like a whirlpool. No photograph is truly indexical, representative of reality. All are manipulated and controlled in some way by the photographer and the audience. There are many truths in photographs, some of which are given more value than others. 

"Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire" - Susan Sontag.

Sontag, in her seminal On Photography, made the above statement decades before smart phones enabled the mass production of photographed images. Instagram is a distribution centre and warehouse for millions and millions of miniature pieces of reality. Diouf's fictional journey and imagery of it may hold as much truth as a photojournalist's documentation of Eritrean asylum seekers' journey across the Mediterranean by boat. Both hold currency. 

Second, is the significance of how Diouf's images were produced and the truths they reveal. 15 of the 16 posts are selfies, shot on an iPhone. Each contains a flourish of hashtags, some ridiculous given to what they are referring. For example, in the image of three men including Diouf running in Morocco, the hashtags accompanying are #sport #runtoinspire #runforfuture #determination #effort #warrior #ultra 

Although Diouf may be a fictional character, performed by a professional athlete, how the story was told reflects a number of new conventions, language and mediums in visual storytelling. By turning the camera downward, towards himself, Diouf wanted to exist; to share his journey with anyone on Instagram. I selfie, therefore, I exist. We, in turn, wanted Diouf to exist. For the audience, the burden of proof was Diouf's/Toure's. It was not on us to critically examine his claims. 

However, it should. Recently, a number of organisations and blogs celebrated the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou. A number of images aggregated from this hashtag were not of the countries they proported to show. Images of Peru, Australia and even stock photographs were manipulated to represent countries like Senegal and Djibouti. Yet, some argued that it didn't really matter, as the purpose of the campaign was to change people's attitudes towards Africa. Sound familiar?