Daily Mail Posts Striking Images, Condescending Text


Yesterday, Sociological Images reposted these incredible images, which originally came from the Daily Mail, a conservative British tabloid. These images appeared in “Femail” – the Daily Mail’s lifestyle section for women – under the title “Out of Africa: The incredible tribal fashion show inspired by Mother Nature.” Both SocImages and another fascinating blog, zunguzungu, took issue with the vapid exoticization that was going on in the article. I highly reccomend reading zunguzungu’s eloquent analysis of the Daily Mail’s presentation of these images, titled “Recycling Africa“.

Serious Business aside, I just want to say this: the images themselves are absolutely striking. When I separate these images from the Daily Mail’s silly writeup (“As they paint each other’s bodies and make bold decisions about their outfits… it seems that the only thing that motivates them is the sheer fun of creating their looks, and showing them off to other members of the tribe”), and from SocImages’ somewhat guilt-tripping Daily Mail smackdown (“What does it mean that people in the U.K. (and the U.S.) are consuming these images? What is the relationship between these images and colonialism? How do such images interact with “development” rhetoric about how Africa is un- or under-developed, developing, or undevelopable?”), on a purely visual level, I’m just absolutely inspired.

It’s amazing, how we can rearrange ourselves.


7 Responses to “Daily Mail Posts Striking Images, Condescending Text”

  1. Fluffmitten Says:

    The images are beautiful, but considering that The Daily Mail has a reputation amongst many of us here in the UK as being a nasty right-wing racist little rag, I’m surprised that the text wasn’t worse.

  2. zunguzungu Says:

    Thanks for the kind words!

    Regarding the issue of beauty, it’s so hard to separate the question of why the writer or reader of the femail section of the Daily Mail would find these images beautiful (and what that beauty might signify) from the reasons why the people in the images might themselves have chosen to array themselves that way. I wonder whether “beauty” would even be the right word, which is maybe why you used the word “striking”; in any case, it seems hard to deny that the ways those images (and the text) frame their subjects makes it hard to answer that question. Because we only see those costumes being worn in very “posed” and “high fashion” ways, its hard to get a sense for what kinds of attitudes the women themselves might have for what their dress signifies. And of course, we don’t see any men wearing these kinds of costumes, which strikes me as unlikely to be the case in the real world.

  3. Nadya Says:

    zunguzungu, thanks for your comment!

    You bring up an interesting point. When I looked at these images before, even though they were in Daily Mail’s “ladies” section, for some reason I always assumed that these were mostly young men in the pictures. I mean, it’s hard to tell, but a lot of them look flat-chested and broad-shouldered enough to definitely be male. Here are the ones I definitely think are dudes:




    I re-read the Daily Mail piece again, and there are no references to gender at all. I think they’re mostly guys and that the article just glossed over this fact.

    As far as the images being posed… I did a little bit of research on the book that these images came from (Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa). I found no information about how the photographer put together these shoots, but I did find this interesting comment in the Amazon.com reviews, by Amyas Naegele:

    “The sub title, “Decoration from Africa” is literally correct but substantially misleading. This is a book of sumptuous photographs of young and beautiful inhabitants of Ethiopia’s Omo valley. There are essentially no pictures of day to day life or the true context of these people’s lives. This book is not about daily life, nor does it pretend to be, but by describing its content as tribal decoration from Africa it promises something authentic. However, nearly everyone here is decked out in face and body paint and draped in a salad bar of lush leaves, sensual pods and pretty flowers. Are they decorating themselves out of some tribal tradition, or for the benefit of the potographer? Travel to southern Ethiopia has become very much easier in recent years. Small groups of intrepid tourists now visit the Omo frequently where as 20 years ago such visits were rare and arduous. Published images from the 80s will show villagers less flamboyantly made up. What appears to be happening is that a fashion show for foreigners is under way, much as what happened in the Nuba Hills of Sudan after Leni Reifenstahl published her famous photo essay hald a century ago. A more accurate title for this book would have been New Fashions: Tribal Children Decorate Themselves for Hans Silvester.”

    That all may be true… but circling back to our discussion of beauty, I still want to say that no mater what baggage around the images, no matter what context, they’re still completely, undeniably beautiful to me. Whether or not it’s “bad” for me to want to consume these images, buy that book, and thus somehow contribute to the change that’s happening in Africa that Naegele describes – I don’t know. I suppose every region plays it up for the tourists – like, “come to Hawaii! We have dancing girls in hula skirts!” or how, during the occupation of Japan, many prostitutes told soldiers that they were Geisha, which definitely changed the way people understood the concept back in the West.

    Yeah, so many groups refashion themselves for the West, but to what extent do Westerners do that same thing for the rest of the world? Hmmm.

  4. zunguzungu Says:

    That’s funny that I simply assumed them to be female. Easily led by the nose, I am! I guess I haven’t actually looked at the pictures since I wrote the original posting.

  5. Vivacious G Says:

    Having tribes in my ancestry, these have a special place in my heart. They are beautiful shots, thanks much for this.

    “As they paint each other’s bodies and make bold decisions about their outfits… it seems that the only thing that motivates them is the sheer fun of creating their looks, and showing them off to other members of the tribe” – yes I do believe we “westerners” do the same in our own way.

    Great post.

  6. Mark Says:

    I loathe and mistrust the Daily Wail as much as any fellow left-aligned Englander. However, the pull-out quote highlighted here simply muses (pretty superficially, I’ll admit!) on possible motivations, rather than stating anything as fact. I think I might’ve missed your point a bit Nadya…are you saying it’s a silly quote because there’s likely to be a more serious motivation for this behaviour than “fun”? If that’s the case, then yeah, I can see why it might seem a bit of a vacuous contention.

    Personally though, I really love the idea that it might just be for fun. It’s refreshing…and for that, I guess I can blame the years of exposure to well-meaning but pompous BBC documentaries, which somehow dehumanise anyone they point a camera at by positing every aspect of ambiguous or unfamiliar social behaviour as a hard-wired and brutally functional ‘instinct’ of sorts. Meh!

    Either way, like you, I find these images utterly stunning and inspiring. Awesome find, thank you. :)

  7. Nadya Says:

    Mark, apologies for the late response to your comment. But basically, you hit it on the head – I think that it’s a vacuous interpretation, and one that, in my opinion, just isn’t written with respect. It seems to say, “look at these simple people and their outlandish decorations, how amusing!” SocImages kind of captures my problem with the language:

    “Notice the way that the author exoticizes them with references to color, a natural frivolity, and the use of words like “fevered,” “outlandish,” “wild,” and “exotic” (exotic to who?). They are motivated by “sheer fun.” And aren’t we delighted?”

    And commenter Nizam on the SocImages post chimes in:

    What if it’s not just about creating a “look”, for “sheer fun” and to “show off” – what if these modes of dress and face-coloring have a depth of meaning in their culture that escapes the small-minded “hemlines up, hemlines down” fashion discourse of western culture? Also, absent context, we have no way of knowing whether the “looks” depicted in these pictures represent “bold decisions” or completely ordinary modes of dress within these tribes.

    It’s silly, it’s not well-written… it makes me feel bad that we’re still framing these kinds of images in the Western press this way. I know it’s the Daily Mail and we shouldn’t expect much but even they could’ve tried harder to come up with a perspective, y’know?