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Documentary Photography as a Tool of Social Change: reading a shifting paradigm in the representation of HIV/AIDS in Gideon Mendel's photography

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Gideon Mendel’s ongoing photographic work documenting HIV/ AIDS, first started in 1993, has seen shifts not only in production but also in the author’s representation of his subjects. This paper looks at three texts of Mendel’s work, taken from three
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  DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY AS A TOOL OF SOCIAL CHANGE: reading a shifting paradigm in the representationof HIV/AIDS in Gideon Mendel’s photography    a thesis by Christine Nesbitt Hillssupervised by Anders Hög HansenSubmitted in partial requirement for the award ofMaster in Communication for Development.School of Arts and Communication,Faculty of Culture and Society,Malmö Högskola, Sweden, June 2011.email: christine@mediapix.za.net© 2011 Christine Nesbitt Hills PHOTOGRAPHY AS A TOOL OF CHANGE 1  AbstractG ideon Mendel’s ongoing photographic work documenting HIV/ AIDS, first started in 1993, has seen shifts not only in production but also in the author’s representation of hissubjects. This paper looks at three texts of Mendel’s work,taken from three different stages of Mendel’s career and readsthe shifting paradigm taking Mendel from photojournalist toactivist armed with documentary photography as a tool of social change. This thesis explores how different positioningsas an author and different representations of the subjects,living and dying, with HIV/AIDS influences meaning-making, and what that means for documentary photography as a tool of social change. PHOTOGRAPHY AS A TOOL OF CHANGE 2  Acknowledgment & dedication I acknowledge and value the enormous effort afforded to mein my quest of higher education - to my teachers and fellow students at Malmö Högskola for their engagement in debate and insight into the field, to Anders, for his inspiring supervision and encouragement, and to Gideon, for the insightshis work in documenting HIV/AIDS has provided.I dedicate this offering to the people living with HIV/ AIDS who I’ve had the privilege of engaging with over my yearsas a photographer, to the editors who’ve supported me in thatjourney, to my families for their unwavering belief in me and to my partner, Paul, for his steadfast love and support,without whom I wouldn’t have embarked on this voyage of learning.I would like to remember a friend and fellow South African photographer, Anton Hammerl, killed outside Brega in Libya onApril 5, 2011. During the final days of writing this thesis,Anton was believed to be held by pro-Qaddafi forces for 45days before fellow journalists, eyewitnesses to Anton’s death,were able to tell of Anton’s fate after their own release. PHOTOGRAPHY AS A TOOL OF CHANGE 3  Table of contents ................Photography as a Tool of Social Change  5........................Early documentary photography  7......................Hine’s tool of social change  9...................Hine’s shifting representation  12...........................A critical perspective  14...............Photojournalism and compassion fatigue  15............Mendel’stightrope of horror and hope  21..........Developmentcommunication and social change  23...................................Giving ‘Voice’  26................................Tools of advocacy  30.................................Exam ining the visual  32...........................Thesite of production  35............................Thesite of the image  38...........................Drawbacks to semiotics  40...........................Thesite of audiencing  41.........................ReadingMendel’s photographs  44..........First text - While the World Looks Away  48...........Second text - Looking AIDS in the Face  69...............Third text - Through Positive Eyes  77..................................Drawing conclusions  86...........................................References  90...........................................Appendices  94...............Preparatory questions for analysis  94.......................Production of an image  94.................................Image itself  94...................................Audiencing  95....................................Coding charts  98................Number of photos in each text  98....................Percentage representation  99...........................................Texts  101..................While the world looks away  101....A broken landscape: HIV & AIDS in Africa  110............................Eliza Myeni.  110..........................Miriam Mbwana.  112...................Looking AIDS in the face.  114..................Call for participants.  117.......................Through positive eyes  118..................Mgladzo’s photographs.  119........................Mgladzo’s quote.  122 PHOTOGRAPHY AS A TOOL OF CHANGE 4  Photography as a Tool of Social ChangeThe way in which the humanities and social sciencesunderstand social life has notably changed over the lasttwenty or thirty years. ‘Culture’ has become an important waythrough which the humanities and social sciences understandsocial processes, social identities, social change andconflict. Within a constructivist view, social realities arecontinually constructed and re-constructed through socialpractices and communication. Many writers place the visual atthe forefront of cultural construction of social life inpresent-day Western societies, suggesting that much meaning isconveyed by the visual.Within this framework, this thesis sets out to examine thecontexts in which documentary photography can be considered atool of social change through the exploration of a case studyof texts produced by South African photographer Gideon Mendel.Mendel’s ongoing photographic work documenting HIV/AIDS, firststarted in 1993, has seen shifts not only in production butalso in the author’s representation of his subjects.   Thisthesis looks at three texts of Mendel’s work, taken from threedifferent stages of Mendel’s career. This thesis explores howdifferent positionings as an author and differentrepresentations of the subjects, living and dying, with HIV/ PHOTOGRAPHY AS A TOOL OF CHANGE 5
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