Western representations of the African 'other' : investigations into the controversy around Geert Van Kesteren's photographs of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Zambia.
The focus of this study is the controversy around the photographic representation of the RIV/AIDS pandemic in Zambia (1999) by the Dutch photojournalist Geert van Kesteren. The controversy evolved around the 13th International Aids Conference in Durban (9-13 July 2000) between the photojournalist and AIDS activists, who argued that the photographs depicted their subjects - all black Zambians - in a victimising, stereotypical and racist manner. An investigation of the controversy on the issues generated forms the premise from which this research is conducted. This is intended to illuminate the nature and context of the more general soci()-documentary encounter between the observing photographer (the Western 'Same') and his/her subject (the sub-Saharan African 'Other') in terms of the politics of representation and the power involved. The study is undertaken within a broad visual anthropological framework of representing the African 'Other' from a Western perspective. The theoretical focus is on differing debates on representational processes and possible claims involved, especially by highlighting and questioning discourses of 'Othering'. Face-to-face, unstructured interviews were conducted with the key actors in the controversy and used to examine how subjectivity and institutional positionality in terms of socio-historical background, class, gender and race influence both the construction and interpretation of representation. Further, the study. addresses some of the limits of the representation of power relations and illuminates that the regime of representation is a system of knowledge production, implying issues of power and inequality. It has to be understood as a discursive site of power relationships, an arena for oppositional political discourses, of which adversary parties consider themselves responsible.