Histoire publique

Humanitarian Photography Beyond the Picture: David “CHIM” Seymour’s Children of Europe

This book chapter concentrates on photography as a technology that goes beyond the image. The chapter looks at documentary photography as an institutional and material practice of humanitarian ‘propaganda’ and discusses how notions of childhood intensified the urgency of humanitarian campaigns. It analyzes how UNESCO carefully selected and edited David Seymour’s photographs of children of war-devasted Europe, and how the organization adapted and exploited his photographs for its own ends. Besides tracing these practices of meaning making, the chapter also looks at the itinerary of one of Seymour’s most fascinating photographs and the different stories that have evolved around it to the present day. In a nutshell, the essay suggests that photographs, by both providing information and stimulating imagination, become actors of meaning making and storytelling. Photographs did not only help UNESCO manage public consent and add urgency to humanitarian causes; they also triggered public debate on social media, cooperated in historical research, and inspired literary work.

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