The extraordinary Steve McCurry is something of a household name, a man whose art has become synonymous with compelling representations of human suffering and joy. Since the green stare of the Afghan girl, commanding attention from the front cover of National Geographic in 1985, McCurry’s currency is built on his ability to move, by evoking danger, through his artistic escapades and in the subjects he captures.
Increasingly, photojournalists who choose international development settings as their inspiration and focus are appraised for the aesthetic value of their work. Inevitably, this largely determines their public recognition, but often subsumes the phenomenal responsibility these photographers bear in relaying situations from an often remote, growing crisis situation.
Their visual coverage – the angle and story they seek to put under the spotlight – demands ethical answerability. The developed world observer’s opinions are heavily based on visual cues, with associated impact such as donations, informed judgements and advocacy strongly correlative to the narratives told by global health journalists (through both word and image).
I have long been fascinated by the import of such a commission: to faithfully depict a comprehensive, emotive and evocative snapshot of life on the edge. Since interviewing the founder and cameraman of the philanthropic Humans of New York venture, Brandon Stanton (which you can read here), I have increasingly sought out the photojournalists who most closely and alarmingly fulfil this brief.
Here are current global health photojournalists I think you should know about. Prepare to be challenged.
To begin with an ending. At my leaving drinks hosted by
the team at Roll Back Malaria (RBM) I was given a glorious book from a photographer that only recently came onto my radar. William Daniels’ ‘Mauvais Air’ is a collection of work commissioned by RBM focusing on life for those in malaria endemic regions. ‘Malaria’ (or ‘paludisme’ in most French-speaking countries), derives from Italian, literally meaning ‘bad air’. The pages of this book are filled with images of this major international pandemic, striking in particular in the most underprivileged populations, from Uganda to Sierra Leone, from Burkina Faso to Calcutta. This dual language edition sees commentary supporting images that capture the spectrum of malaria’s consequences, fundamentally highlighting the enormity of the battle that spans before us before we achieve a world free of the disease.
With publications such as Time and the Smithsonian magazine on her commissioned portfolio, Alyssa Banta’s work across these platforms and alongside NGO partners including the International Red Cross and the International Medical Corp has garnered critical acclaim. A Pulitzer Prize-nominated documentary photographer, Banta’s series on internally displaced persons is among the most astounding work I have yet encountered in this sector.
The terms ‘refugee’ and ‘displaced person’ are often used interchangeably. In actuality, refugees are defined by the UN Refugee Agency as people who ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’. The category of displaced person includes those who remain trapped, but dislocated within their home country. The common thread across these groups, and Banta’s work, particulary her Afghanistan series, is the fear and loss that permeates her subjects’ figures and atmosphere.
Olivier Asselin grew up in Canada, and pursued a self-identified pedestrian career in Information Technology. Since the millennium, Asselin relocated to France and the camera, and boasts an employment history with media and development organizations in over 25 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Alongside these assignments, Asselin promotes sustainable media initiatives for the developing world through Possible Media, a project coordinator he founded in early 2013.
Possible Media employs video and short documentary reels to transcribe his static imagery into a literally moving location profile. His still photographs are notable for their experimental engagement with perspective, inviting considerations of the broken human form within potentially threatening geographic environs.
Moved to document the under-reported humanitarian struggle of children and women worldwide, Calvert seeks to secure basic human rights for her subjects by raising their profile through a collaborative exhibit and advocacy approach. It is this conviction and consistent determination to give a voice to those who are not heard that has twice earned her the Robert F. Kennedy journalism award.
Perhaps because of the political complexity that informs her work and projected aims, Calvert’s portraits canvas high-profile world leaders, which nestle alongside projects such as ‘Nigeria – Polio’s Line in the Sand’. Few can be exposed to this collection without sharing in a visceral, almost physical, crippling that mirrors those her work brings out of soft focus into striking monochrome filters.
The portfolio of Mark Tuschman crystallises the reality that it has never been easier to take photos – or more difficult to capture the ones that matter. Citing global health development and medical stories as his raison d’être, Tuschman’s photography is, relative to the other artists on this list, perhaps the most immediately identifiable as global health imagery.
Acutely aware of his social responsibility, Tuschman’s photos commonly depict group shots, often in familial and quotidian settings. Less difficult to witness than their more explicit, graphic counterparts, his Guatemala collection captures the subtleties of human life, and the universal determinants of health. Vibrant colours, in jewelled hues punctuate his work, highlighting the richness in cultures other than our own.
An all time personal favourite, de Luigi relishes in development issues he seemingly stumbles across in his neighbourhood as well as those found in far flung pockets of the developing world. Currently based in Paris, de Luigi’s images are widely recognized, with his non-development related work including the iconic ‘Pornoland’ with accompanying by Martin Amis.
Drawing attention in particular to his T.I.A. project, one begins to comprehend the reason his work has gained such a following, for more than just its risqué flavour and provocative associations. Standing for ‘This is Africa’ the connotations of Total Information Awareness are certainly productive in this context. In T.I.A. we are invited to consider the narrative in what is not on display – in the gaps between the images, comparable to those existent in the lives of those who look into – and out of – his shots.
Documentary photographer Carlos Cazalis has lived in Mexico City his entire life. His work, however, has travelled further afield, taking him on trips to Dhaka, Bangladesh for live image feeds, as well as communications opportunities presented by the acclaim he has received across the world, most notably in France.
His Tumblr feed promises ‘some philosophy on the human condition’; one which resonates across his listed projects. To really understand Cazalis, ‘The Urban Meta’ portfolio is a critical starting-point. Started in downtown São Paulo, Brazil in 2006, this assignment gave the world an insight into the largest urban population Latin America had ever seen with 438 families squatting in the shadows. Many of these groups were Bolivian, brought together in the common hope to gain better opportunities within the megacity infrastructure. These images tell of a legacy, and recycling of previous generations who, like these peoples, had already fled rural poverty. Always alert to the imperative to humanise, his images depict people who can be lived and felt and imagined. A master of light work, this project has now fingered its way across eight other major global cities, facing similar challenges to greater or lesser degrees. To me, the original São Paulo collection remains the most forceful evocation of mechanical urbanity and its potential threat to the peaceful coexistence of fragile human populations.
Much like McCurry, Nick Ut’s legacy has caught up with him. On June 8, 1972, he captured what would become a Pulitzer Prize winning photo depicting children, wide-mouthed and screwed-eyed fleeing from a Napalm bombing during the Vietnam War. The girl centre frama is a naked, nine-year old girl: Ohan Thu Kim Phúc. She became ‘Napalm Girl’ – one who made history by challenging the Associated Press of the time, and alerting Westerners to the extreme vulnerability of the population under threat.
Since those beginnings, Ut has continued to shock and revolutionise the photojournalist world and regular viewers alike, with images that push the bounds of his art, while simultaneously taking us beyond the safety of ignorance or incomprehension.
According to his bio, Ron Haviv is an Emmy nominated, award-winning photojournalist, dedicated to documenting conflict and raising awareness about human rights issues around the globe. Reluctant as I am to proponent book buying in lieu of seeing prints in real life, his ‘Questions without Answers’ folio is a treasured gift, which drains attention by vocally, and visually, demanding change.
Haviv is a truly phenomenol photojournalist, increasingly conscious of his ethical responsibility and immeasurable gift, played out in the frequent workshops and photography masterclasses he hosts across the world. However, there is scant trace of the conceited self-sustainable artist about Haviv. The nexus of his work stimulates a desire to shock viewers into action with his ‘Blood and Honey’ project a distressingly beautiful series based around conflict. In Susan Sontag’s 1977 collection of essays On Photography, she writes ‘the very insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of […] our world’. These international development photojournalists do just that, and demand recognition that viewers cannot be the same once we have cast a light on their work.