After controversy on social media surrounding Newsha Tavakolian’s photographs of East Congo, Médecins Sans Frontières announces internal review
The celebrated Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian has defended herself against accusations of unethical practice after publishing a series of identifiable images of African teenage rape survivors made while on assignment for the international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
On 25 August 2021, Tavakolian, 41, a Magnum Photos member and one of the foremost female conflict photographers in the world, published on the non-governmental organisation’s (NGO) website Ituri, A Glimmer Through the Crack, a series of photographs she created over a four-week period in March 2021 in the war-torn Ituri province in the northeastern reaches of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The series focused on female victims of sexual violence and included several fully identifiable photographs of a 16-year-old teenage girl from a remote Congolese village.
MSF posted the photoessay alongside a first-person article co-written by Tavakolian; the series was then shared on Magnum’s site on 21 April 2022 and has since come under the scrutiny of prominent photography activists on social media.
The images of the girl, as well as those of other survivors of rape included in the series, are deeply problematic, the activists say, as the women in question were unable to provide Tavakolian or MSF with informed consent.
Photographer Jason Tanner, a human rights photographer and teacher who has previously worked for MSF, said to The Art Newspaper: “These images will exist, in perpetuity, on the web, identifying them as child survivors of rape. How does a child, in Ituri, fully understand that? Does MSF not believe these stories can be told without resorting to images of fully identifiable child survivors of rape?”
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