Feb 10 2011

Is a graphic a photo better? Time vs. Smile Train

Published by at 12:03 pm under healthcare,news,portraits,press

Update: 2/10/11 – This photo of Bibi Aishia by Jodi Bieber just won the World Press Photo of the Year 2010. Congratulations Jodi, is there a lesson to be learned here?

This week’s cover of TIME has a very graphic photo of Aishia, an 18-year old Afghan woman who had her ears and nose cut off by members of the Taliban for fleeing her abusive in-laws.

At first glance it’s a photo of a beautiful woman. Then there’s the second take of shock after seeing her missing nose.

Time Is a graphic a photo better? Time vs. Smile Train

A beautiful woman or a shocking portrait?

In a video, photographer Jodi Bieber talks about her personal reaction to the Aisha and how she wanted to portray her as a beautiful woman and not a victim.

Richard Stengel, Managing Editor expressed concern about running the photo. Her was worried about the safety of Aisha (she is in a safe location and is headed to the US for reconstructive surgery) and about the disturbing effect it could have on children viewing the cover.

I admire the balanced treatment of the photo. It would have been easy to make the photo even more shocking, but I think that causes people to turn away instead of stopping to engage the issue.

Foundations that surgically repair cleft lips and cleft palates take the opposite approach. Both Operation Smile and the Smile Train take the approach of showing very graphic photos of children with deformed faces.

SmileTrain Is a graphic a photo better? Time vs. Smile Train

A graphic approach to fund-raising used by Smile Train

When I had the assignment of working on a cleft palate story for the UCLA School of Medicine Magazine I needed to decide on which patient to feature and how graphic of a deformity to show. As I flipped through a photo book of patient photos in the office of Dr. Henry Kawamoto there were many examples of major deformity. I selected a boy with a mild defect that I showed playing on a tire swing with his family. The cleft palate could be seen, but a happy childhood was the over-riding message.

My low-key portrayal was a conscious reaction to the Smile Train approach and supported by the editor. Their use of photography may be the right method for soliciting donations though. The co-founder, Brian Mullaney comes from an advertising background and they may have tested an entire range of fund-raising approaches and learned that the graphic photos work.

For me, the TIME approach of attraction and shock works better. The Smile Train photos just move me to quickly turn the page.

What do you think? Which engages you more? Can both approaches be right for different reasons?

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

2 responses so far