Mauritania: The role of visual media in sparking intellectual interest

This summer, I will work in Mauritania as a State Department intern. When I tell people this, they’re bewildered. Many times, they can’t tell if it’s a city or a country. Assuming they’ve even heard of the place, many can’t locate it on a map. Naming or pronouncing the capital city of Nouakchott? Not a chance.

As an American who follows western media, I expect this situation. Though a large West African country, Mauritania has a population around the size of my home state, Wisconsin. Its government isn’t significant on the world stage. Despite complex issues with modern-day slavery and recent reports of Qur’an desecrations, the country is rarely covered in mainstream U.S. media. In America, people need to make special efforts just to receive news of sub-Saharan Africa, much less Mauritania.

Without media coverage, it’s difficult to visualize, relate to or develop an interest in any country.

That’s where Mitchell Kanashkevich comes in. In a blog post titled “Mauritania: the most amazing place you’ll probably never visit,” Kanashkevich pinpoints lack of knowledge surrounding Mauritania while offering viewers a way out of this potential ignorance. Kanashkevich takes his audience on a journey from a desert camel watering station to a gathering of fishmongers on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, and finally returns to the sweeping, windy desert. He allows us to see into the lives of old men and children, nomads and city dwellers.

In viewing his images, I can almost listen to what’s going on. I can imagine the shifting wind, childrens’ yells and music Kanashkevich experienced, and can almost see the movements of dancing women and squealing goats. These pictures are not just stimulating in the visual sense: they seem to emit sound and motion, and thus build my excitement.

Kanashkevich’s photos illustrate the media’s power to share knowledge and provoke interest. He demonstrates the media’s power to bring cultures closer together and to contribute to increasingly global thought. Through his images, Kanashkevich is even able to provide a lens into a country and culture 5,000 miles away for a college student in Missouri.

Find Kanashkevich’s photos at: http://www.mitchellkphotos.com/blog/2013/07/22/mauritania-the-most-amazing-place-youll-probably-never-visit/

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