Function of humanitarian photography

Extract from the Degree Thesis in Photojournalism



From the examination of some charity and awareness campaigns towards problems of global importance, or towards the set of problems that refer to a specific issue of universal interest, we will try to analyze the efficiency of the images that transmit fear, used for such campaigns. Every day, at every hour of the day, we are faced with images of suffering. The media bombard us with images of terror, they feed us scenes of natural disasters, ecological disasters, theaters of wars, triggering in our minds the conceptual absurdity that outside our homes there is nothing but suffering and atrocity, starting from a of the first and oldest information rules, that positive news does not stimulate interest as much as negative news. The deaths are now emptied of all human elements, the massacres represent only the number of victims, hunger has become obvious, diseases are treated as conspiracies and wars go on incessantly, producing disaster and death. Everything is reduced to a due act. Everything falls within a predictable logic marked by fatalism and by now we leaf through the newspaper with the same emphasis with which one leafs through a cookbook. Horror images have an ethical value, since they make us aware of the facts, but in order for this to happen, the photojournalist, in the use of photography for documentary and humanitarian purposes, will have to empathize with the subject he is photographing, establishing a relationship. intense, such as to create a feeling of spiritual communion and in particular of knowledge.

However, the professionalism of the photographer too often goes beyond the humanity of his inner gaze, establishing a demarcation line with the subject and this places the author of the reportage, at the time of the documentation, in a condition of detachment from the photographed event, making so that that empathy, absolutely indispensable in the case of images with a humanitarian background, between the photographer and the photographed, between the suffering and the non-suffering, is almost lacking. The same thing can be said of the observer, of those who benefit from the information. What is it that makes the observer more attentive and involved in events? The effectiveness of the images or the strategy used by the awareness campaign? And if there is indifference, is this perhaps due to the fact that the image is not strong enough to detect the cause? Examining the reactions of the viewer in front of the horror, two states of mind are identified at the same time: compassion and indifference. The communication strategy is the starting point with which awareness campaigns should set their message, adopting moral mechanisms with which to build a relationship of trust between speaker and audience. The task of awareness campaigns is not an easy one, however, where the choice of the right image encompasses two apparently contradicting needs, represented by the ethical reflections and the commercial opportunities of having to stimulate the observer, and if the purposes will not be both achieved, this will mean the failure and inefficiency of the strategy. Therefore, the task of the awareness campaign is to identify the right type of tactic to use to achieve its purpose.

This text will focus, on the one hand, on the psychological aspects of charity appeals that could interfere with public reactions, such as the efficiency of motivation in promoting various issues and the importance of those social pull factors when building a awareness campaign and on the other hand we will try to identify the use of appropriate images, which are also supported by explanatory and clarifying articles, to avoid misinformation and misleading. For our study, we will consider two major international problems affecting mankind: AIDS and world hunger, two serious afflictions, guilty of unspeakable genocide. Terrible word that evokes pain, suffering, sin, guilt. Unfortunately, while pain and suffering tear the spirit and the body of the sick, sin and guilt are not always ascribable to the sufferer, because the syndrome is often not caused by our behavior and guilt and consequently the sin are to be found elsewhere. Since AIDS was first made known to the world in the mid-1980s, millions of articles and photographs have appeared in newspapers and networks around the world, with the sole purpose of portraying the devastating effects of 'HIV, the virus responsible for the infection, stating, at first, that the syndrome affected homosexuals. It was thought that the disease discriminated against mankind, affecting only non-heterosexual men and this was the first cruel and disastrous deception, perhaps due to the lack of knowledge that until then we had of the disease, but still it was a deception. Later it was found that it was not only men who were affected, but also women, children and some people who had undergone untested blood transfusions. Only then did it become clear how much the problem was of wider relevance and alas concerning the entire world population, but it continued to be thought that sex was the cause of what was then called the plague of the twentieth century. For several years, these continuous and constant updates on the transmissibility of the disease led the whole world to assume a total and often even irrational attitude of defense against AIDS and guilty, at least in part, of this disinformation was photography, which for its immediacy is often times more effective than printed paper.

The photos that portray sick people in absolute poverty, such as those of third world populations, lead us to think that poverty is the main cause of food shortages, but today we know that this is only a contributing cause, while the real causes derive from the total lack of food. of targeted industrialization policies. Humanitarian Photography, which should interpret the demands of mankind and spread its images about it, is too often stigmatized to particular events and situations that push the observer to get erroneous conceptions about the matter. A child leaned beyond belief, with a swollen belly from malnutrition, dirty and tormented by insects, only shows us the devastating effects of hunger and pities us, but after our useless, virtual moment of sadness, our life continues as before. and unfortunately the child will inevitably die if he does not intervene. So it is imperative to ask ourselves whether it is right, from an informative point of view, to disclose photographs that do not highlight the true causes, but are limited only to representing their effect. The intent of our thesis is to highlight what we consider negativity of exposure, outlining an optimization profile of an awareness campaign.


From the reading of the texts concerning the strategy of fear-appeal, words and phrases continually emerge, which we will define as keys, which at times closely linked to each other, other times instead in contrast with each other, lead us to specific concepts, from which amalgam and above all from their mutual mediation, a clear connotation of the fear-effect generated by images of psychological terror derives. On this connotation we base our personal theory, on the validity of the use of certain photographs and on the direct consequences that derive from them, leading the viewer to action or non-action attitudes. The main recurring keys, enunciated in bulk, are: threat, response to threat, persuasive effect, behavioral change, perception, emotional state, politics of pity, giving, information, indignation, denial, saturation. By following different psychological processes, through the different possible combinations, we can reach multiple results, even antithetical between them. From personal, subjective concatenations of the keys, we will describe how to reach results marked by pragmatism (action) or immobility (non-action).


Information - Threat - Indignation - Perception - Emotional State - Persuasive Effect - Response to Threat - Behavioral Change - Politics of Mercy - Donations.

No action

Information - Threat - Indignation - Emotional state - Saturation - Denial. The sequences set out above provide us with the indication that a successful campaign necessarily involves longer paths and times than another that has a negative outcome and this is because the psychological processes that trigger a realization kinematics are particularly complex. Regarding a given situation, acceptance necessarily involves a series of considerations, which presuppose different emotional states that must be compared and evaluated, on the contrary, a response of denial, very often is of a priori rejection and therefore does not imply any psychological process.

Action analysis Looking at a photograph that contains elements of terror (terminally ill with AIDS, malnourished children and the like), taking note of the information that is proposed to us and the consequent threat that it entails, immediately, as a first reaction we feel indignant for what we are observing . The perception of evil, with all its expressed negativity, leads us into a reflective state, in which the message received convinces us of the seriousness of the event, prompting us for an answer that is preparatory to solving the problem. At this point our emotional state splits into two branches: one internal and personalistic, another external and altruistic. In the first case, in order not to incur the danger that the threat presented to us, we will modify our behavioral attitude in order to avoid it; in the second case, we will work to ensure that, through our action, this danger can be removed from our fellow men, or at least, where it was already present, try to mitigate it and fight it. And here, upon reaching this emotional stage, the desire to tackle the problem effectively, through humanitarian actions, such as assistance to the needy, volunteering and cash donations, is triggered. Non-action analysis After having viewed the photograph that offers us a disturbing spectacle of terror and devastation and having reached the stage of indignation, the emotional state that could follow is one of psychological saturation towards the message received, because by now there are too many images of opprobrium. which we are subjected to and no longer have a hold on our soul. We say to ourselves that these shows are no longer able, we are almost annoyed and then the rejection is consequent and the automatic denial.

Conclusion Fear-appeal is a powerful and immediately gripping tool, but its use must be adopted in moderation and must not be indiscriminate or generalized, it must not absolutely rely only on the sensitivity of the observer, it must also empathize. with the organizational establishment, in order to create a homogeneous implementation in the various stages of the awareness campaign which are: information and awareness, behavior modification, humanitarian action (volunteering and raising money). The photographic message must be politically correct and never misleading. You must not represent scenes or actions that arouse false, or worse still, transversal interpretations of the problem. Awareness must never be based on the concept of religion, because misfortunes are independent of religious belief. Pity is not enough to promote a good campaign. The message must also contain economic implications. Without money there is no campaign, and for this reason, as in the case of hunger in the world, dwelling too long on images of malnutrition is definitely wrong. Hunger is not fought with the begging of a plate of soup, it is fought with a policy of programmatic and constant social development over time. In the case of AIDS, it is extremely essential to trigger the concept of hygiene in certain social pockets, which is too often absent.


The development of the project set out in the introduction will take place in stages that will be developed during construction, making use of sources concerning the themes: AIDS and WORLD HUNGER. Through the analysis of the sources, we will try to reach conclusions that demonstrate the need to use pertinent and absolutely appropriate elements to the proposed themes, by examining writings, publications by authoritative experts in the sector and photographs by professional photographers and journalistic photojournalists, exploiting sources of primary and secondary information available. In the specific case, having to argue about awareness campaigns to certain social problems, secondary sources will be used above all, because an information campaign involves a very precise and defined project, to which references specially constructed and weighted according to a logic are particularly suitable. of implementation designed to ensure maximum emotional impact. The method used will be multiple, having to make use of different study systems relating to photographic documents and written documents, denoting dystonia, ambiguity of interpretation and incompleteness of information of the facts exposed. According to the cases, the following methods will be used: Analytical method. An in-depth examination of a document, in order to detect its peculiarity, or its main characteristics. Through the analysis of a photographic shot, it will be highlighted how a specific problem can be brought to the attention of the observer, which is part of a more complex problem and how the shooting mode has highlighted an interpretative key to to the detriment of other possible interpretations, magnifying or diminishing a particular concept clearly inherent in the context and at the same time ignoring or highlighting other considerations which, although not clearly depicted, naturally follow from the photographic exposure. Comparative method. The comparison between two or more elements, which express the same concept, identifying similarities and differences.

A photograph and even a writing contain messages and news directed to the user, who through this information will form a concept of the event modulated according to the canons dictated by the author of the document, but two photographs or two writings, concerning the same context, compared, they will not necessarily produce the same effect, because they are realized differently. In this way two photographs of the same subject will create different emotional states, like two newspaper articles or even books dealing with the same topic will form, in the reader's mind, different concepts, if the treatment has been conducted in a different way. The comparative method is the most effective way to demonstrate that one can narrate the same problem, but obtain dissimilar results, sometimes even in stark contrast between them. Contradictory method. The analysis of documents which, despite having the same subject, differ in the quality of their enunciation and in their proposed purposes. Two documents having the same subject can direct the user towards totally dissimilar solutions to the problem exposed, even though the realization of both is precise and error-free and well conducted, because the purposes that had to be achieved were different for the authors. Putting them in contrast, it will be possible to highlight these differences and in some cases it will also be possible to establish whether one of the two is conceptually wrong, even though it is perfect in form. The form of contradictory analysis is the most valid to show how an argument can have multiple ways of being treated and thus reach different conclusions.

List of literary texts under analysis Luc Boltanski - The spectacle of pain - 2000 Susan Sontag - Illness as a metaphor: Cancer and AIDS Ronald W. Rogers - Theory of Motivation for Protection - 1975 - 1983 Stanley Cohen - States of Denial - The Removal of Pain in Contemporary Society - 2002 Martin Caparros - Hunger - 2015 Kary Mullis - Article on AIDS List of photographs under analysis

Photograph I

Photography II

Photography III

Photography IV

Photography V

Photography VI


For the drafting of the topic we are about to deal with, the texts and articles to be examined are of fundamental importance. In this sense, world literature and international journalism offer us countless ideas, but to better identify the sources to be taken into consideration, it is necessary to give, albeit very briefly, a hint on the way, for us more exact, to set up a campaign of social communication and more precisely define the objectives which, linked to each other, are divided into a primary objective and two objectives of purpose. The primary objective is represented by the need to inform and sensitize the public about a specific topic of collective interest. Awareness is the first decisive step before taking any direction. The first objective of finality is the will to induce the community to assume certain attitudes, modifying, if necessary, their own, towards a problem. The second objective, the most concrete, is the collection of money to promote scientific research and organize a series of services that support people living with that particular problem. The study of these three fundamental points guided us in the choice of the chosen texts and photographic documents. Sources Nobel Prize Kary Mullis - Article on AIDS; Save the children - Photo I'm starving; DISEASE AS A METAPHOR BY SUSAN SONTAG Analysis of the work

The concept that every event is open to interpretation and hides a hidden meaning because everything must have an explanation is wrong. Susan Sontag in her essay Illness as a metaphor, tells us that not all things have a meaning, much less disease, because there is nothing more primitive than attributing a meaning to a disease, since this meaning is inevitably moralistic. The term metaphor stems from the concept that certain diseases, over the years, have been ascribed, often by illustrious intellectuals, as consequences of particular moods. See Thomas Man who in his novel The Enchanted Mountain renders tuberculosis, a scourge of unspeakable proportions before the discovery of penicillin, as a symbol of refinement, or even as a consumption of love. Even cancer has been psychologized, considered the result of sexual repression (Wilhelm Reich) and the disease of those who want death (George Groddeck). Thus from a disease that arises due to specific organic conditions, cancer becomes, for the patient, the fault of the degeneration of his life and, by translation, a metaphor for political and social degeneration. On this metaphorical aspect of the disease arises that pseudoscience that bears the name of psychosomatics, where it is affirmed, without giving an explanation, that the pains of the soul are converted into diseases of the body. Power of metaphors and symbols, magnified only by literature, certainly not by science! Susan Sontag fought against this ignorance, cloaked in aesthetics, inviting us to demethaphorize the disease and eliminate all interpretations, with a blaming background. In addition to the disease, AIDS patients have to fight the image of the disease, which is scarier and more difficult to overcome than the disease itself. The sexual origin of the disease when not homosexual, its spread among drug addicts offers morality a fertile ground for the consolidation of its principles and the exercise of its prohibitions. AIDS affects the customs, the lifestyle, the strength of feelings. It radicalizes the distance between health and disease, between norm and deviance and contaminates disease with guilt, sin and punishment as the last act.

Critical judgment Against AIDS it is scientific research that is taking its steps forward, but we can all do something against the imaginary, with correct information that frees us from the noise of messages dictated by ignorance, fear or moralistic complacency. . Unfortunately, the imaginary is more difficult to defeat than diseases, especially when it has a repressive purpose, using metaphor and interpretation to contain conduct and limit the life of men. Sources Susan Sontag - American writer and intellectual. Wilhelm Reich - Austrian psychoanalyst, a student of Freud. Georg Groddeck - German psychoanalyst, founder of psychosomatic medicine.


Analysis of the work Analyzing the awareness campaign against smoking carried out by the WHO, in which fear-appeal is used without parsimony, we will illustrate how Ronald Rogers has developed his own theory regarding the use of this tool. One of the most used strategies to reduce cigarette consumption is to place effective health warnings on all packs of tobacco products, mediated persuasive messages to communicate the negative consequences of unhealthy behavior, which, by arousing fear, lead to change. behavioral. Typically, fear appeals have two components: the threat; the recommended answer. The threat of the message outlines the negative consequences of a certain behavior (smoking kills). Instead, the recommended response describes the behaviors that should be implemented to avoid the threat (your doctor and pharmacist can help you quit smoking). Between 1950 and 1960, in the USA, some scholars dealt with fear appeal by developing the Drive Model, which proposes a relationship between the activation of fear and the persuasive effect. Later in 1970 Leventhal proposed the Parallel Responses Model in which fear does not cause the persuasive effect, but is only associated with it, in parallel form. Leventhal argued that, in response to health risk messages, two distinct processes occur: the fear control process and the danger control process. The hazard control process is a process in which the subject analyzes possible behavioral alternatives and weighs their costs and benefits. It is guided by information during which the subject thinks about the danger and ways to cope with it, implementing behavioral changes. In 1975 Ronald Rogers, resuming Leventhal's study, focused his attention on the danger control part of Leventhal's Parallel Response Model, exploring people's cognitive reactions to health risk messages. Altogether this model, called the Protection Motivation Theory (PMT), revised in 1983, was the first to identify the components of persuasive messages:

·probability of the threat happening; ·severity of the damage; ·effectiveness of the recommended responses in averting the threat; ·stimulation of self-efficacy. He stated that these message components lead to the following corresponding cognitive processes or perceptions: ·perception of one's vulnerability to the threat; ·perception of the intensity of the threat; ·perception of the effectiveness of the recommendation; ·perception of one's self-efficacy.

In the revised and considered definitive version of the 1983 PMT, Rogers identifies two assessments: the maladaptive assessment of the threat (called maladaptive because it leads to a decrease in the motivation to protect oneself) and the assessment of coping strategies (or adaptive threat assessment). As for maladaptive threat assessment, Rogers argued that perceptions of gravity and vulnerability are deduced from some reward that comes from performing dangerous, unhealthy behavior. For example, if you feel vulnerable to lung cancer and consider cancer a serious threat, but feel that the rewards of smoking, such as reducing anxiety, maintaining a low body weight, are stronger than the threat, then one will continue to smoke and expose oneself to lung cancer risk, what Rogers considers a maladaptive response. On the other hand, regarding the process of evaluating coping strategies, Rogers says that when people believe that effective responses and thoughts of self-efficacy are stronger than the sacrifices of performing the recommended behavior, then they commit themselves. in adaptive responses that protect them from a health threat. Here are the interactions proposed by the PMT: Increased threat assessment (perceptions of severity and vulnerability outweigh the rewards of smoking) with high conditions of assessment of coping strategies (perceptions of effective response and self-efficacy outweigh most importantly sacrifices) leads people to engage in the highest levels of adaptive behaviors. Conversely, an increase in the evaluation of the threat associated with low conditions of the evaluation of coping strategies (the sacrifices outweigh the perceptions of self-efficacy and effective responses) leads people to engage in the highest levels of maladaptive behavior.

In conclusion, the important feature concerning PMT is the emphasis on cognitive processes and the motivation for protection, rather than on the emotional processes aroused through fear. Rogers proposed that adherence to the recommended responses was not mediated by an emotional state of fear, but rather the result of the increase in protective motivation stimulated by cognitive evaluation processes.

Critical judgment. Overall, the PMT encodes excellent systems of behavior, having identified the components of fear appeal and having clarified the part of the cognitive control of danger described by Levanthal, predicting the conditions in which fear appeal works; that is, when perceptions of gravity, susceptibility, effective responses and self-efficacy are high, people appear to accept the recommendations of the message, creating changes in attitudes, intentions and behaviors. Sources Ronald W. Rogers - American social psychologist

LUC BOLTANSKI'S PAIN SHOW Analysis of the work The book discusses the humanitarian question both from the philosophical-anthropological and from the sociological-political point of view, sometimes keeping these two perspectives distinct and sometimes intertwining them. The work consists of three parts. The first, entitled The problem of the spectator, where the author's intentions and his position are presented, suggesting a key to reading the humanitarian question as an essential part of the current public debate, and proposing the recovery of the politics of piety, as an attempt to understanding the problem of evil through the communication of images and information through the media. The second part retraces the three topics in which the politics of piety was expressed, meaning by topic precisely the rhetorical figure of a literary argument: - the topic of the complaint, the starting point of which can be traced back to Rousseau; - the topic of sentiment, present in the novel between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; - the aesthetic topic, which finds exponents in Nietzsche, Sade and Baudelaire. The third part directly tackles the crisis of piety, which distance produces but at the same time makes necessary, and offers us a realistic way of commitment for the common citizen grappling with the dilemma of adequate action for his own value orientation. Overall, Boltanski questions the legitimacy of a new politics of piety in the contemporary age, marked by an excess of information and a generalized knowledge of suffering. The first question that deserves to be discussed is of a theoretical nature and concerns the place that a politics of piety would hold. In this context, recourse to the spectator serves Boltanski to effectively follow up on his twofold need: on the one hand, that the spectator can make himself the object of reflection in communicating to others, assimilating himself as an object to the condition of the unhappy; on the other hand, that he can become aware of an obligation to act that does not arise only from a mere reaction to the spectacle of pain, but also as a response dictated by his own moral conscience. The figure of the spectator is interesting, because it consists in founding responsibility on the recognition of a common knowledge of situations, and therefore on the formation of an informed community, thus justifying the theory of the relationship between cognitive processes and emotional states and this brings us back to Leventhal and his Theory of Motivation for Protection. Of Boltanski's extensive work, we will examine, with regard to the emotional states deriving from suffering, the second part of his work, concerning the topics of suffering.

Relationship between media and action. Images to use to stimulate action. The number of events and situations of suffering that we become aware of through the media increases day by day, while our capacity for action inspired by such knowledge is not so flexible. Our awareness of the fate of others and our ability to influence it do not coincide and given the scarcity of messages that reach us, our actual actions on the condition of others are not always ethically inspired. No wonder, therefore, the ease with which commitment is given up without too many moral torments: a refusal that seems to be a rational step, a legitimate conclusion deriving from a lucid evaluation of what is possible to do. Horror images affect us emotionally and push us to bring help to the needy, but rarely push us beyond financial aid. Our commitment does not go out of its way to find a concrete solution to the problem. Suffering, psychologically, is divided into three fundamental topics: · Topic of suffering; · Topical of the complaint; · Topical of feeling. Luc Boltanski focused on these three topics, specifying that the topical expression must be related to an argumentative dimension and an affective dimension, trying to stimulate collective commitment through emotions.

The topic of the complaint The spectacle of distant suffering induces a spectator, condemned to inaction, to feel indignation. The indignation presupposes a new orientation of attention that shifts from the unhappy to his persecutor, who in turn can also be considered unhappy, due to the suffering inflicted on him by the accusations. Therefore, for a complaint topic not to take the form of a controversy, it is necessary to motivate and argue the different positions. The accusation must be justified by means of evidence and must involve a search for the truth. The viewer cannot linger in emotion and concretely ground the accusation. There are two essential conditions of this topical:

1. the attitude of indignation; 2. the cold observation of events.

The topic of feeling The second possibility that presents itself to the spectator who observes the suffering of others is that of feeling tender towards the unhappy. While the topic of the denunciation is oriented, as has been said, in the direction of an investigation, activating a concept of justice in which the inner states cannot be the object of truth, that of sentiment is articulated in the substrates of interiority, allowing the observer to feel what the sufferer feels intimately in his heart. The viewer opens his heart to welcome the suffering of the unhappy and shares his emotion with other people, trying to move them through the story of what moved him, thus transforming his personal emotion into collective emotion. The weak point of this topic is the importance accorded to emotions, which, in addition to being able to give rise to a multiplicity of interpretations, can be discredited, as symptoms of a moral position linked to the situation, in the presence of a specific suffering.