The image of the lifeless body of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi on a beach in Turkey in 2015 caused worldwide outrage.
His death changed humanitarian policies across Europe.
The power of images to change the world is the focus of a University of Queensland-led study.
Professor Roland Bleiker from UQ’s School of Political Science and International Studies will lead eight scholars from three universities and four industry partners examining how compelling images can transform the delivery of international aid.
“With humanitarian emergencies becoming more frequent and challenging around the world, images play a key role in conveying the meaning of such crises to distant audiences,” Professor Bleiker said.
“Because they influence public perceptions and policy approaches, prevailing visualisations of humanitarian crises are powerful but can be problematic.
“They often focus on violent events, suggesting we are overwhelmed by problems and unable to find solutions.”
Professor Bleiker said images from world hot spots tended to portray victims in stereotypical ways and as dependent on Western help.
“Humanitarian organisations know that images of suffering victims generate compassion in Western viewers and are effective fundraising tools,” he said.
Professor Bleiker said solutions were not easy to find and simply replacing existing images with happier ones was not the answer.
“Doing this does not do justice to the nature of conflict and does not help humanitarian organisations raise awareness and money to alleviate suffering,” he said.
“We aim to address these challenges by developing and testing alternative visual strategies that depict humanitarian crises in ways that encourage compassion for victims without entrenching problematic stereotypes.”
Image credit: Umit Betas/Reuters
Image credit: Adobe/Kanin Studio
Professor Bleiker will work with experts in international relations, psychology, photojournalism, marketing and policy analysis, as well as industry partners and leading humanitarian practitioners, to create new best practice guidelines and transform Australian and international approaches to humanitarian crises.
Project team member Associate Professor Sana Nakata from the University of Melbourne said the desired outcome is to better equip humanitarian organisations to help people in need and contribute to enduring political solutions.
“The need for more effective aid policies comes at a time when humanitarian concerns are increasingly central to global stability and Australia’s national interest,” she said.
Image credit: Danish Siddiqui
Along with the University of Melbourne and Australian National University, it will involve four prominent partner organisations at the forefront of humanitarian and photojournalistic work – The World Press Photo Foundation, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Australian Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières Australia.
Image: Jorge Silva/Reuters
Image: Jorge Silva/Reuters