Starved for Attention: Photographer Documents Hunger in Djibouti

Photo: "Starved for Attention" is a seven-part mini-documentary series documenting the parents and health workers struggling to meet the needs of young, growing children around the world.
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"Starved for Attention" is a global multimedia campaign to fight childhood malnutrition, which claims the lives of millions of children each year.

A collaboration between the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders and the VII photo agency, "Starved for Attention" is a seven-part mini-documentary series documenting the parents and health workers struggling to meet the needs of young, growing children around the world.

An estimated 195 million children are malnourished worldwide, and malnutrition contributes to at least one-third of the 8 million deaths of children under the age of five each year. The series highlights how childhood malnutrition can be prevented with the right kinds of nutritious food, and the policies around the world that prevent nutritious food from reaching the children who need it.

VII photographer Marcus Bleasdale traveled to Djibouti to document the frustrations of health workers caring for malnourished children in Djibouti City. Here, he answers questions about the experience. More from the series can be found on the Starved for Attention website.

Why did you choose to focus on Djibouti?

Djibouti chose me. [Doctors Without Borders] had a lot of projects in places that I'd been before. Both [Doctors Without Borders] and I thought that it was a much better opportunity for me to cover something different…You don't have any visual preconceptions, any preconceptions whatsoever. You come to a new place with fresh eyes, fresh thoughts.

You have expressed that it was important to break the stereotypical image of the starving African child for this campaign. How did you do that?

I was working in a 50-square-meter compound only with very sick, very thin African children. So it was very difficult not to point the camera in that direction. For me it was hard to focus on the larger picture, to focus on the why as opposed to the who, you know, why is this thing happening, why is malnutrition happening in Djibouti? What's behind it, what are the political ramifications of it?

And malnutrition in Djibouti is very political. It's not as if there's a war going on there, and it's not as if there's any shortage of food. That's not the case at all. It's purely an issue brought on by poverty, and to some extent, poverty brought on by government policy. And poverty brought on by international donor policy. All of that was going on in my mind whilst I was shooting. Additionally, I had to focus on the [health care workers] and the effect that this scene and this health devastation had on the people who were trying to provide the health care.

'Starved for Attention': A Photographer in Africa

Did you know when you went to Djibouti that you were going to want to photograph the health care workers? Or was that a natural progression from what you saw there?

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