The Story About the Wrong Photos in #BringBackOurGirls

Who are the girls in the photos being used on the Twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls in support of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram? The photos were used without permission of the photographer Ami Vitale. The girls in the photos are not Nigerian schoolgirls but instead are girls in Guinea-Bissau.

Ami Vitale took the photos to show the hope and resilence of people in Guinea-Bissau. The BBC removed the photos from the related blog post on the BBC website. However Chris Brown has not removed the photos.

Using those photos without permission is a huge infringement and misrepresentation of the girls in the photos,  their families, and the photographer.  The photos should be taken down by those who used them without permission.

There were three photos that were taken from either my website or the Alexia Foundation website, and someone made these images the face of the campaign….

There are many times when I get upset when people take my photos without permission, but this isn’t about that. I support the campaign completely and I would do anything to bring attention to the situation. It’s a beautiful campaign that shows the power of social media. This is a separate issue.

This is about misrepresentation.

These photos have nothing to do with those girls who were kidnapped. These girls are from Guinea-Bissau, and the story I did was about something completely different. They have nothing to do with the terrible kidnappings. Can you imagine having your daughter’s image spread throughout the world as the face of sexual trafficking? These girls have never been abducted, never been sexually trafficked.

This is misrepresentation.

I wanted to put a human face on conflict. But when I got there my story changed. Because I realized the way Africa is generally portrayed in mainstream media is either wars, famine or stories like this terrible abduction. You see the horrors or the other extreme, beautiful safaris and exotic animals. There’s nothing in between.

So it’s ironic the story I was telling was that there is a beautiful world that lies between these two truths. Why don’t we ever tell these stories that show the dignity and resilience of these people?

And this is why I feel so enraged, because I was trying to not show them as victims. They are not victims. Using these images and portraying them as victims is not truthful. The story I did was a hopeful story.

Online:  NYT:  The Real Story About the Wrong Photos in #BringBackOurGirls (interview with Ami Vitale)

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