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Photographs and accountability: cracking the codes of an NGO

By Jane Davison


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to formulate an analytical model for interpreting photographs in accountability statements from Barthes' celebrated theoretical work on photography, La chambre claire; to offer a study of the communication of accountability by an NGO through the first detailed analysis, within accountability literature, of one photograph. Design/methodology/approach – The study establishes a conceptual framework for examining photography based on La chambre claire's contrast of rational codes (Studium) with intuitive elements (Punctum). An application of the framework is provided in considering the heterogeneity and accountability of NGOs through an examination of the Oxfam Annual Review 2003/2004 front cover photograph. Findings – The framework is enlightening: the photograph's Studium reflects the complexity of Oxfam's dual engagement in the corporate and charitable sectors, and the developed and developing worlds; its Punctum arouses sentiment and compassion. Research limitations/implications – The study provides a model which may be applied to the wealth of photographs produced by contemporary organizations; the framework encompasses promotional images as well as photographic art, and is well suited to figurative photography. It is limited regarding photographs of a hybrid or abstract nature. Practical implications – The analysis is of interest to accounting researchers, practitioners, trainees, auditors and any user of accounting and accountability statements. It illuminates the way in which photographs highlight, complement and supplement information more traditionally communicated in numbers and words. Originality/value – The paper adds to research into NGOs; augments theoretical work on photographs in accountability literature; and expands the empirical literature on the interpretation of photographs in accounting and accountability statements.Annual reports, Communication, Non-governmental organizations, Photographs

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