As the production, content and display of humanitarian images faced the requirements of digital media, humanitarian organizations struggled to keep equitable visual practices. Media specialists reflect on past and current uses of images in four Canadian agencies: the Canadian Red Cross, the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan, the World University Service of Canada and IMPACT. Historically, the risk to reproduce the global inequalities they seek to remedy has compelled photographers, filmmakers and publicists in these agencies to develop codes of visual practice. In these conversations, they have shared the insights gained in transforming their work to accompany the rise of new digital technologies and social media. From one agency to the other, the lines of concern and of innovation converge. On the technical side, the officers speak of the advantage of telling personal stories, and of using short videos and infographics. On the organizational side, they have updated ways to develop skills in media production and visual literacy among workers, volunteers, partners and recipients, at all levels of their activity. These interviews further reveal that Communications Officers share with historians a wish to collect, preserve and tell past histories that acknowledge the role of all actors in the humanitarian sphere, as well as an immediate need to manage the abundance of visual documents with respect and method. To face these challenges, the five interviewees rely on democratic traditions of image-making: the trusted relationships, both with the Canadian public and with local peoples abroad, which have always informed the production and the content of visual assets. For this reason, humanitarian publicists might be in a privileged position to intervene in larger and urgent debates over the moral economy of the circulation of digital images in a globalized public space.
From June 1918 to April 1919, the American social photographer Lewis Hine made photographs of refugees in Europe. Refugees emerged as an unexpectedly humanitarian subject during World War I. Care for them was part of the American Red Cross’ (ARC) overall war relief activities, which Hine was hired to visually record. In this paper, I present the way in which refugees went from being framed in the ARC’s mass-circulated popular Red Cross Magazine as unique, innocent, idealized war-affected civilians to eventually being visually displaced in a shifting humanitarian landscape. For refugees who were, by 1920, making their way across the ocean to North America, visual displacement from the humanitarian visual sphere was tantamount to territorial displacement. Anxieties and negative rhetoric of the unassimilated alien prevailed, resulting in the temporary ‘closure’ of America’s borders and the ARC’s growing American-centric relief activities. Entwined with anti-Bolshevism, American immigration, and isolationist politics of the early twentieth century, Hine’s photographs and the ARC’s role in contributing to humanitarian photography are an early example of a rise and fall in sympathies towards refugees that would continue throughout the century.
This article introduces you to the general themes and questions of this special issue. We argue that history and visual media have long been central to humanitarian communication, but that the overlaps between history, visual media, and humanitarian communication have seldom been addressed. A focus on those overlaps, we suggest, not only demonstrates that critical historical inquiry has much to offer for professional communication specialists, it also sheds new light on the workings, changes and persistence of humanitarian narratives over the twentieth century.
Interpreting Red Cross museums as a visual medium, this essay explores the visual politics of Red Cross museums through the twentieth century. The essay puts particular emphasis on the entanglements between the visual politics and humanitarian narratives of Red Cross museums and identifies three major narratives that museums promoted through the times: a heroic narrative, a narrative of civility, and a volunteer’s narrative. Last, the essay argues that Red Cross museums may offer a fruitful field to encourage more engagement between (public) historians and humanitarian practitioners.
An accomplished academic, collector, and long-time Red Cross volunteer, Professor Dr Rainer Schlösser is head of the Red Cross Museum of the Red Cross Chapter Fläming-Spreewald in Luckenwalde. He has directed the museum since 2000. Since 2006, he has also served as official spokesperson of the Association of the Red Cross Museums in Germany, a group connecting thirteen Red Cross museums across Germany. I met Rainer Schlösser in his office at the Red Cross Museum in Luckenwalde. After an extended and insightful tour through the museum we sat down to discuss his ideas and his work at the museum.
For two decades, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) prepared pedagogical materials for Canadian schools. This article reviews the role of visual media in the hundreds of publications prepared for Development Education. Samples collected by Marc Rockbrune, Distribution Clerk responsible for their expedition in schools, libraries, and homes, and donated in 2016 to Carleton University Archives and Research Collections, are read with the help of the ‘psychopedagogical guides’ prepared by CIDA, and the testimonies of two workers of the agency linked to their preparation and dissemination: Mary Bramley, curator of the International Development Photo Library, and Rockbrune himself. Prepared with a large measure of autonomy by a sizeable team of visual artists, designers, and third world reformers, the program outreach was large, and its popularity strong. The expected and effective roles of visual media in the history of this short-lived institution of Development Education is explored to suggest elements of understanding of their impact on a generation of Canadian children and youth.
Focusing on the pivotal period of 1919–23 and the large-scale humanitarian responses in Central and Eastern Europe, this paper discusses the development of advocacy in the movies made by organizations like the ICRC, Save the Children Fund or American Relief Administration. While aid agencies observed and competed with each other for visibility, humanitarian cinema shaped visual advocacy, grounded in the idea that ‘seeing is believing’. Exploring the fragmented audiovisual archives, as well as magazines and promotional material, this paper explores the testimonial function of humanitarian films in the 1920s. It first shows that the immediacy of the cinema technology increased the immersive and affective experience of the viewers by using forensic evidence and images of the body in pain. It then analyses how these films compelled audiences to witness suffering and act through persuasion, suggestion, and emotions. Finally, it inquires into the use of eyewitness images and first-hand accounts during the screenings, to show how these movies operated within larger regimes of visibility, while making claims on behalf of distant beneficiaries.
The following conversation explores the emergence of advocacy within the MSF movement. Maria Guevara was Senior Operational Positioning and Advocacy Advisor in the Operational Centre Geneva (OCG) at MSF Switzerland. Marc DuBois was the Head of the Humanitarian Affairs Department in the Operational Centre Amsterdam (OCA) at MSF Holland and the former Director of MSF UK. Together, we discuss the principle of ‘bearing witness’ and the dilemmas it has raised among MSF’s different sections, as well as its link to eyewitness.
Famine means destitution, increased severe malnutrition, disease, excess death and the breakdown of institutions and social norms. Politically, it means a failure of governance – a failure to provide the most basic of protections. Because of both its human and political meanings, ‘famine’ can be a shocking term. This is turn makes the analysis – and especially declaration – of famine a very sensitive subject. This paper synthesises the findings from six case studies of the analysis of extreme food insecurity and famine to identify the political constraints to data collection and analysis, the ways in which these are manifested, and emergent good practice to manage these influences. The politics of information and analysis are the most fraught where technical capacity and data quality are the weakest. Politics will not be eradicated from analysis but can and must be better managed.
The search and rescue of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants on the Mediterranean has become a site of major political contestation in Europe, on the seas, in parliaments and government offices and in online public opinion. This article summarises one particular set of controversies, namely, false claims that the non-government organisations conducting such search and rescue operations are actively ‘colluding’ with people smugglers to ferry people into Europe. In spring and summer 2017, these claims of ‘collusion’ emerged from state agencies and from anti-immigration groups, became viral on social media platforms and rapidly moved into mainstream media coverage, criminal investigations by prosecutors and the speech and laws of politicians across the continent. These claims were in turn connected to far-right conspiracy theories about ‘flooding’ Europe with ‘invaders’. By looking at the experience of one particular ship, the MV Aquarius, run in partnership by MSF and SOS Méditerranée, the authors detail the risks that humanitarian organisations now face from such types of disinformation campaign. If humanitarian organisations do not prepare themselves against this risk, they will find themselves in a world turned upside-down, in which their efforts to help people in distress become evidence of criminal activity.