Hillary Palmer- My paper proposal is intended for the Visual Communication Division at the 2012 NCA Conference.


Master’s Student Authored Paper

Famine Aid Imagery: Silencing and Commodfiying the African


The American mass media has generated a strikingly visual response to the 2011 Horn of Africa famine. The Horn of Africa is the northeastern portion of Africa comprised of Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan and Kenya. This mediated visual response is typified by online photo slideshows that focus on malnourished children while re-presenting the African family as neglectful and incapable. For example, a photo slideshow from Yahoo! News of 501 photos covering the ongoing famine included over 100 photos of malnourished children with a clear lack of familial presence.


The American media displays the African body, and particularly that of the African child, under the pretense of generating aid and awareness. This paper will examine how the aforementioned mass mediated images of famine silence and commodify the African through graphic re-presentation of their bodies. Additionally, I will address the ways in which these images are part of a larger African aid movement that silences the African voice through commodification, replacing the African voice with the voice of the American consumer. Therefore the flawed nature of the American movement for African aid will be demonstrated.


This critique will look at online photo slideshows from the Los Angeles Times, Yahoo! News, and the Washington Post during the late summer of 2011, when American internet coverage of the crisis has been most prominent. These visuals need to be critically addressed because not only does photojournalism provide insights into the underpinnings of liberal-democratic public culture (Lucaites and Hariman, 2001), but the way in which the American media re-presents Africans is doing a disservice to international aid efforts and the African identity by creating a situation of perpetual need in which the African has no voice.