Beyond icons: subjects and stereotypes in humanitarian photography

23 - 24 May 2016
Photography exhibition
Description

Looking at photographs of humanitarian crises, we often get a sense of déjà vu.

This familiarity stems from the repeated use of stereotypical depictions of people-in-crisis over the course of 150 years of humanitarian imagery.

This photo exhibit features a range of 'icons', or visual tropes, such as 'The mother and child' and 'The boat people'.

The Spanish coastguard intercept a fishing boat of migrants. Tenerife, Canary Islands; 24 October 2007. Arturo Rodriguez/UNHCR

'The boat people' - The Spanish coastguard intercept a fishing boat of migrants. Tenerife, Canary Islands; 24 October 2007. Arturo Rodriguez/UNHCR

Featuring both historical and contemporary photographs, this exhibit invites critical reflection on how people in emergency settings — from refugees to aid workers to famine victims — are typically portrayed. It also explores the purposes, aims and power dynamics underpinning humanitarian images.

This exhibit is one in a series organised by the World Humanitarian Summit, on the theme of 'reflections'. It forms part of our ‘Global history of modern humanitarian action’ project and was curated by Valérie Gorin (University of Geneva) and Sonya de Laat (Western University).