Subject: UNHCR Advertising
Dear Truth Warrior,
Thank you for e-mailing me about your work. I found your site interesting and informative about the UNHCR and your views about images and UNHCR policy. Obviously your attitudes and views have been formed by your culture and religion. Your horror and sadness over the buttons is understandable. It is exactly the horror and shame depicted in these photographs that spark pity in the hearts of westerners. They see these images and are moved to donate something towards the refugee effort. The very thing you find appalling is the thing that will make westerners donate.
If I understand you correctly you are saying it would be better not to have people donate money to the refugee cause if shaming is required?
You also condemned a photo of boys being penned and fed rice from a communal bowl. You are right, it would be better to have them sit at table with a knife and fork or chop sticks and be pleasantly mannered. However, these boys are displaced persons, have no money. unlike some of the refugees you mention and would starve to death if no effort at all was made to assist them. Yes it is humiliating to see this. It is a great shame on us that we allow these abuses to occur, but they are occurring all the time in this world.
Many people of different cultures and religions attempt to assist refugees. They all bring their differing attitudes to this work.
You are not alone in reacting with shame over images of distraught and frightened people. I live in a country, Australia, where our black native people, the aborigines cannot look at photographs of their friends and relatives who have died. They destroy their family photos and object publicly when the media uses film or photos of people long since passed in articles and programs about their culture. The national broadcaster in Australia the Australian Broadcasting Corporation puts out a warning when pictures of the deceased are to be used in programming so as not to offend aboriginal people. Maybe the UNHCR could do this for people like you? The vast majority of people who donate to the UNHCR are Europeans. As a European myself I can confidently assert our cultural practice and views on photographs. I am a photographer myself and I understand the power of images. Photography and film is a European invention. The depiction of human life in all its forms has become cultural art in film and photography. This means all human behaviour is now committed to film and photos as well as the written word. The human condition is by definition alarming and awesome to view in its many guises. People react to images based on their own psychological needs. As I have already said your reactions are triggered by your own life experience. There are tirades of abuse about erotica in western culture by those with prudish sexuality. There are tirades of abuse about violence in film in the visual arts by those who believe the depiction of violence leads to violence. Non of this has stopped films and photos being taken. There is a desire by many people to use this technology to record the most intimate moments, to record all of life.
The use by images to sell an idea - advertising is a corporate strategy. The UNHCR is using sophisticated advertising techniques developed in corporate advertising agencies to sell a view, as you correctly described, that refugees are poor sods needing urgent financial help. You say many are not poor sods needing urgent help that this is a distortion of facts. The Australian Government agrees with you on this and is charging refugees held in Australian detention camps accommodation fees. If refugees are not poor, not hungry, not in need of shelter how can we affluent people help? Are you saying it is better we do nothing?
One last point - are you feeling shamed by asking the UNHCR for help and your reaction to these photos is a reflection of your own feelings?
If you form your argument about the UNHCR into say 200 words I will place it on my website. It is always interesting to get a new perspective on things.
All the best with your quest for truth.
Re: UNHCR Advertising
Sorry for my delayed reply. I'll try to write my comments on your wise message:
Let me please tell you at the beginning what is my target for all my activities. I want to change the bad policies in the UNHCR, I believe that'll improve its performance and will improve the situation of the refugees in the worlds. My Human-buttons campaign is just a point of many, so this sentence is not correct; "attitudes and views have been formed by your culture and religion." My activities are based on clear view and fixed strategies. You didn't read all of my campaigns and also you'll not have complete understanding before you'll read the next campaigns. There are many bad policies in the UNHCR and that polices causing lots of harm to the refugees. One of them is the donation and maybe you don't know like the others about the real rule of the UNHCR in solving the problem of the refugees' crises in the world. I'll explain more about that in the future. The UNHCR didn't authorized to ask or to collect money for the refugees, the UNHCR doing that on the Internet only. I didn't find any other way the UNHCR using to collect money!
"If I understand you correctly you are saying it would be better not to have people donate money to the refugee cause if shaming is required?"
No. I didn't speak that; the problem isn't the money or the donation. The real problem is the understanding, concentrating on money distracts people from seeing other problems. Like I spoke in my article, all humans need money but not only money. I didn't feel shame because of the donation; it's good to help even with small money but not without understanding. Like you spoke in your message these pictures used to evoke sympathy inside the donors, not the understanding! That what I feel ashamed of.
"You also condemned a photo of boys being penned and fed rice from a communal bowl."
No, the problem isn't using "communal bowl", we all the time use communal bowl. The problem is in the way of feeding and in the separation between the children and their servants, and even it's not in eating on tables or without spoons, poverty isn't the problem here but the inhumanity that was clear in that pictures. And for sorrow that is one of the UNHCR's policies, always there are separations between the refugees and those whom working for the UNHCR. Do you know that we as refugees don't have the right to ask a question or to know how they work in the UNHCR? That picture is just example like the picture I took by myself for the refugees in front of the UNHCR in Beirut.
The culture governs our behavior and we need to understand our culture as the cultures of the others. I can understand the feelings of the Australian natives about seeing pictures of their died relatives, so what do you think about seeing pictures of living people being abused by this way?
I understand the power of pictures and it's good to explain and make people to understand, but the UNHCR just constant on one thing "the poverty" and not all the refugees are poor. I think that 20-25% of the refugees are poor, maybe less than that. I need to find more static about this subject, but the UNHCR don't provide clear and trusted static and also because not only the UNHCR is working in the field but there are hundreds of NGOs beside the governments. Not all the refugees are registered with the UNHCR. UNHCR is just one part of the efforts in the fields to solve the problem of the refugees.
"One last point - are you feeling shamed by asking the UNHCR for help and your reaction to these photos is a reflection of your own feelings?" the work of the UNHCR toward the refugees are obligation on the UNHCR and not help, merit or charity, I didn't feel shame to ask them (those whom working for the UNHCR) to solve my problems, they are workers doing work and take salaries for doing that work, they need to feel shame for refusing to solve my problems not me, I'm proud of myself even if I'll live all of my live with the same way like now. I did many good things for the refugees here in Lebanon and I'm sure that'll do more. I'm happy with the hardships that I'm facing now because of those whom working for the UNHCR and because of the UNHCR's bad policies.
"If you form your argument about the UNHCR into say 200 words I will place it on my website. It is always interesting to get a new perspective on things."
Sorry I can't summarize the matter in 200 words, it's not just a subject, and it's my life. You can publish your message with link to my article: http://www.unhcr.info/human-buttons.htm if you like.
I like to publish your message on my blog http://unhcr.blogspot.com I can hide your contact details, as you like. I'm waiting for your permission.
Thank you very much and I hope to hear from you soon.
Date: Wed May 18, 2005 3:13 am
Subject: Re: UNHCR Advertising
Hope you are well. Yes, please use my comments as you wish on your blog.
The comment from the Netheralands about paying the models for their work and
recognizing their contribution to the UNHCR advertising campaign I thought a
very good point. Business frequently take pictures and never pays the
people they photograph or give them a credit in the publication. This is
wrong. All the people photographed for the buttons should have been paid a
fee and recognized for their contribution. I'll bet they were photographed
All the best with you work.