Sociologically Imaginative Pictures Award


Socioligically Imaginative Pictures CompetitionThe misconceptions about the economically poor and the misguided goals of mission work are perpetuated by the saturation of images of people in distress following catastrophes. Specifically, the ruinous earthquake with an epicenter near Léogâne, Haiti proved destructive to the physical land and lives in January of 2010. The response from outside countries may have been just as devastating as the 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Well-intended donations and mission work were ill-founded due to the inaccurate portrayal of needs from news outlets and large aid organizations. Specifically, images saturated the television coverage, newspapers and personal newsfeeds and urged Americans to donate and take action without cultural context. Reliable grassroots organizations that value the culture, context and individual needs of communities due to their ongoing presence and support of local infrastructure - are proven to be far more effective in the long run than big relief organizations. Images of people living in poverty possess the social power to cause large masses of people to form assumptions that justify actions. These actions are so strong that they sometimes perpetuate and intensify the issues in struggling countries and communities. However, as my image reveals - the Haitian people are strong, capable individuals.

Reflected in our materialistic society, the message from many photographs of those living in Haiti, was that “anything helps” in regards to donations. By pairing the sad faces of children with the worn status of their shirts, it could have encouraged viewers to see their lack of proper clothing (to our standards) as a problem they wanted to help solve. In reality, the saturation of undesired clothing to the country proved more harmful than helpful in many regards. Increased clothing imports account for about half of the decline in apparel industry employment in Haiti. The unneeded donations clog canals and contribute to the water and sewage crisis.

The images are seen as heroic and important as the photographer is bringing awareness of issues to Westerners. However, that very power imbalance is problematic as it perpetuates stereotypes of poverty and the perceived incapabilities of individuals living in poverty. With the "Ladder of Inference" in mind, I wonder how our view of impoverished countries and people would change if we did not select our data to fulfill our assumptions.

Instead, the image I took focuses on the power of a Haitian mother in a simple moment as she fixes her daughter’s hair. The position of the laundry in the foreground, frames the nurturing moment between mother and daughter as the focus of the image. The woman had just finished giving myself and a few others a tour of her home and the location where the sustainable latrine she purchased would be built. Capturing the moment between the mother and child from a lower perspective gives power to the focus of the image - the woman.

Madie Miller,
Second Year Undergraduate Student of Sociology at Luther College

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