Current Institutional Affiliation
Freelance Photorapher

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Emory University
Implicated Images: Photography, Aid and Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

International aid agencies number more than 25,000 worldwide, increasingly acting and photographically documenting their work in conflict zones. Their striking imagery often portrays both individual victims and aid-helped survivors. Research addressing these images notes their ability to evoke Western compassion as well as to unwittingly heighten conflict in the regions they depict. Despite the dramatic and potentially deadly effects of humanitarian images, how such photographs become loaded with local meaning in communities where they are made, intersect regional systems of representation, and articulate the nuanced social identities carried therein, remains poorly understood. This project addresses this gap by analyzing the connections and contrasts between humanitarian and local visual culture and practice in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – the site of both the deadliest conflict since WWII and one of the world's largest humanitarian efforts. While history, politics, resources, and economics motivate the conflict, combatants target civilians for their social identities, including politicized ethnic differences and categories of belonging, which are often marked or interpreted visually. Employing participant observation, structured and unstructured interviews, and a novel combination of photographic methods, this project addresses the processes of local and humanitarian image creation and interpretation. Balancing local and aid agency perspectives through the comparison of local visual culture (photography by Congolese for their own use and enjoyment) and humanitarian visual culture (photographs created by both Congolese and Westerners for aid agencies) this project examines how humanitarian photographic practices and processes shape social identities and impact local and international relationships, power dynamics, notions of belonging, and ultimately, the ongoing violence in the eastern DRC.