Earlier this year, National Geographic examined its own role in creating and perpetuating racial stereotypes and acknowledging that its coverage in the past has been racist. Its last two magazine covers have drawn criticism, leading some to wonder if anything has changed.
Kainaz Amaria, an editor at Vox, called attention to the National Geographic covers, suggesting that one conveys a "heroic white cowboy" narrative while the other perpetuates a “primitive other” stereotype.
In drawing attention to the magazine covers, Amaria sparked some constructive debate. Charlie Hamilton Jones, the photographer of the monkey hanging onto the child’s head, explained how closely he works with isolated communities and that he was shooting a phenomenon that he saw around him regularly. James also pointed out that the article connected to the cover photograph talked about many of the myths surrounding these tribes.
Others were keen to point out that while he might have been depicting what he saw around him, it was part of an editorial tendency to seek out such images and deliver “what Nat Geo [is] looking for and what audiences love.”
With a respectable amount of grace, James acknowledged that as journalists and editors, they will make mistakes and always welcome the thoughts of others. For National Geographic, the difficulty now sits between creating compelling images that grab their readers' imaginations while also maintaining their journalistic integrity and ensuring that they do not perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes of distant people and view them through colonialist eyes.
Where does this balance sit? How do photographers provoke by creating something compelling but without reducing something complex to mere surface? Your thoughts in the comments, please.