Design is made for societies. Therefore, it is essential for designers to know how societies, but also the individuals who create society, function. The series “The Bigger Picture” is dedicated to social developments and contexts that are relevant for design thinking and acting. This is done by means of filmic material on the question of poverty as an economic resource in Africa as well as on the work of cartels in Mexico and the USA.


The Bigger Picture I: Image Politics and Image Economy of Misery


We all know them: the images of starving, sick and needy black children, the ‘African misery’. Western organizations promising help have incorporated them into their advertising and PR; they have become an integral part of a Western business models.

But beyond that, can negative issues, like poverty, be positively understood as a resource in African nations themselves? Can poverty, disease and death in Africa be an economic resource for states like raw materials? Can they be (figuratively) exploited and sold, turned into profit? Who exactly profits from the images of misery? Who is allowed to produce them at all? Why are such pictures made almost exclusively by white people? After all, black photographers could also take the pictures. Is there image racism involved? Using photographic and cinematic material, the discussion moves into a discussion of the image politics and image economy of misery. A logical conclusion to be discussed would be: if everyone earns money from these images, the West as well as African states, who should ever have an interest in destroying this resource, thus eliminating misery in Africa? Is there such a cynical side to capitalism?