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BackgroundRecently, global health has been confronting its visual culture, historically modulated by colonialism, racism and abusive representation. There have been international calls to promote ethicality of visual practices. However, despite this focus on the history and the institutional use of global health images, little is known about how in practice contemporary images are created in communities, and how consent to be in photographs is obtained.MethodsWe conducted semi-structured interviews with 29 global health photographers about the ethical and practical challenges they experience in creating global health images, and thematically analysed the findings.FindingsThe following themes were identified: (1) global health photography is undergoing a marketing transformation and images are being increasingly moderated; (2) photographers routinely negotiate stereotypical and abusive tropes purposefully sought by organisations; (3) local scenes are modified, enhanced and staged to achieve a desired marketing effect; (4) 'empowerment' is becoming an increasingly prominent dehumanising visual trope; (5) consent to be photographed can be jeopardised by power imbalances, illiteracy, fears and trust; (6) organisations sometimes problematically recycle images.Interpretation/discussionThis research has identified practical and ethical issues experienced by global health photographers, suggesting that the production cycle of global health images can be easily abused. The detected themes raise questions of responsibility and accountability, and require further transdisciplinary discussion, especially if promoting ethical photojournalism is the goal for 21st century global health.

Original publication




Journal article


PLOS global public health

Publication Date





Ethox Centre, Wellcome Centre for Ethics & the Humanities, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.