Copyright Glenna Gordon
UPDATE, March 13: When I wrote this post last week, I had no idea what the scope of this would be. My thoughts changed significantly as this unfolded, and for more on that, please read this later blog post.
Vice wrote a post with a valid question: “Should I donate money to Invisible Children?” and they used my photo without having requested permission. Had they contacted me, I would have been very hesitant.
I explained to Vice:
While I agree that the point of the article is to raise questions — a practice I support — the photograph, even when making that point, continues to perpetuate misinformation and to mythologize the film makers as bad asses, a practice I do not support. While the photo can be used to criticize them, there are a whole lot of teenagers in Iowa thinking to themselves right now, “Awesome!”
But, here we are, the photo is up and all over the internetz, and Vice has agreed to add a caption for some context, attribution, etc.
My doubts about this photo persist. I have put up other photographs of white people doing different stuff in Africa before. And, at a different moment in my thinking on these things I did share this photo with Wronging Rights.
Recently, though, I’ve hoped to explore the idea of the privilege outsiders are granted with nuance and a soft touch that leaves room for ambiguity. For more on this, please read my post “On bias, subjectivity, and deeply personal photography.”
This photo doesn’t do that — it just contributes to the stereotypes of kids messing stuff up by showing the worst of the worst and showing it without context. And worse yet, it adds to the Invisible Children bad ass mythology even while attempting to cast doubt on their practices.
So, some context: Sudan-Congo border, April 2008. We’re all bored out of our minds waiting for endlessly stalled peace talks to resume. Invisible Children dudes have some fun by posing with SPLA soldiers. I uncomfortably photograph them having said amount of fun. Later, I worked with a colleague to try and publish a story about what we saw as their questionable practices, but we couldn’t get a publication to bite. Now, perhaps that’d be different, and at the end of the day, I do hope that all of this can make us look at Invisible Children with a more critical stance.