The power of photography and saving children

Save the Children has put photography at the heart of it’s campaigns right from the beginning. For our first ever campaign in 1919, Eglantyne Jebb (our amazing founder) distributed posters in Trafalgar Square featuring incredibly emaciated children. She was outraged that the children on the losing side of the war were starving to death and she knew that showing people what was happening would be the most effective way to galvanise people into action. She was arrested for her actions, but ultimately raised £400K in today’s money to feed millions of children across Europe.

Photo handed out by Eglantyne Jebb in Trafalgar Square in 1919
Photo handed out by Eglantyne Jebb in Trafalgar Square in 1919

90 years later we picked an equally difficult subject – the conflict in Gaza. We challenged the UK public to act, again using an emotive image. This campaign had an incredible effect – generating the largest ever UK SMS petition (200,000 in just a few days), ultimately raising millions for to help children and their families through our programme work in Gaza. We also know this helped spur our government to take a strong line on the conflict.

Emotionally powerful image used to generate support for our Gaza campaign
Emotionally powerful image used to generate support for our Gaza campaign

We haven’t shied away from taking and using powerful images but we also understand that photography can have a negative impact – both on how our audiences percieve the developing world and on the lives of those we represent. So we wanted to find out how we can depict injustice but do it in an ethical way.

After a bit of digging around we discovered that no one had done any comprehensive research into what communities felt about the way they are represented in photos.  So this is the challenge we’ve taken on!

We set off to find out what communities in Afghanistan, Gaza, Kenya and India thought not just about the photos of themselves but also about how they felt about being photographed and whether they knew why their photo was being taken and what it was going to be used for.

I’d be interested to hear what people think.

I’ll be keeping you up to date with how the project progresses.

Leave a Reply


  • Madhuri Dass

    Hi Rache this is a great post – thanks for sharing. I’ve been wondering when we will have the results of the research? Its a subject I’ve always wondered about, given that I’ve been taking photos of people in difficult situations for all of my professional life!

  • Hi Rachel
    Thanks for this interesting post and for the phenomenal work you & Save The Children are doing. We implore people to seriously consider supplementing your work by joining the global call of NON-VIOLENCE to Boycott all Israeli goods, to help end the brutal Apartheid, as we were proud to do to end S.African Apartheid.
    My personal focus is on the child victims of the Illegal Occuppation of Palestine and the Illegal Siege & Massacre of Gaza.
    There are indeed some very powerful photos in circulation, including your own, and also some profound and if sometimes controversial, at least brutally honest, cartoons from people like the genius humanitarian peace campaigner, Carlos Latuff.
    I loofk forward to seeing the results of your research. In the meantime our organisation is actively donating and seeking donations to Save The Children’s Occupied Territories Fund.
    You can see Latuff’s profound work and some photos on

    Best Wishes

  • Rachel – am incredibly interested in this, having just come to similar conclusions (that no such research seems to have been done) myself. I am thinking a lot about how people are portrayed/want to be portrayed at the moment and look forward to your results with interest. This is something ALL charities that work with unrepresented people should be thinking about. If we have the power to give the poor a voice are we truely giving them the words they would want to be saying through images we take? I also find the concept of developing more participation in allowing people to record their own lives through photography an exciting one….. keep me posted and feel free to follow my own ponderings at Keep up the good work! We should be asking these questions!



    have just read your post from back in Nov and i found it compelling reading…despite the fact that we do give a voice to the voiceless the way we manipulate images or market images to impact the viewer to feel a certain way is an interesting discussion, even in light of the fact the images bring financial donations and support. In 2011 I agree it is time to ask the people who are photographed what they make of the images? It raises problematic issues of the portrayal of ‘other’ and power too?? great you are askign the question though!

  • Camilla

    Dear Rachel,

    I am really interested in the issues raised in this post. I think there is a lot to think about in terms of how we portray the people we work with, are we presenting them as ‘other’ thereby further entrenching our role as ‘providing the solution’? I am thinking of exploring this theme for a Masters dissertation, in particular thinking about what the consequences would be, good and bad, if subjects were more able to share their story on their own platform. What are the benefits in terms of holding to account, and empowering autochthonous solutions, and what are the challenges if putting this into practice?

    I would really like to know if you are continuing to research this?
    Many thanks

  • Hi Rachel,

    Still interested in updates on this. My website is now at Where are you with this? Best wishes, Laura