Covering Emergency: NGO Photographs of Stability in a Space of Ongoing Conflict — Aubrey P. Graham

NGOs operating internationally depend upon images of their projects to legitimize themselves before funders and collaborators. Aubrey P. Graham, an anthropologist and photographer, employs her participant observation with freelance NGO documentation in North Kivu Province, DR Congo, to explore the contradictions that arise when NGO’s prioritize positive images of sponsored progress in conditions of ongoing violent conflict. NGO photography is now oriented along a division of aesthetic labor in which text captions perform the cursory task of narrating historical context while photographic images do the work of recording success and inspiring further support. Such image economies become pedagogical projects that educate both photographers and their subjects in the limited forms available for addressing global audiences. By pivoting from photos of conflict and violence towards those of success and development, NGOs render politics invisible and strip their beneficiaries of dissent and agency. The resultant images demonstrate the machinations of global donor capital more than they attest to conditions in beneficiary communities.

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