An Anonymous Cry

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Last week, a book of startling black-and-white portraits arrived on the desks of 25,000 of the most influential people of the world. Recipientsamong them heads of state such as Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blairwere confronted by images of the world's poorest human beings, together with fragments of lyrics from a song. On the back cover, readers were directed to an elegant websitewww.first8.orgon which can be found the United Nations' eight goals (drafted at the 2000 Millennium Summit) to end extreme poverty.

Where did the book come from? It didn't say. But the website said that First8 was the "initiative of an independent Dutch foundation ... without any political affiliation." A trail through Dutch nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) eventually led to Sander Veenman, a Dutch photographer, 42, who took the photographs. Veenman says that he wanted to keep the book anonymous so that people would talk about the issues it raises and the images within it, rather than about who was behind it. "There are a lot of people trying to figure out which organization this is, and they are really pissed off that there is no email address, that there's no one they can talk back to," he says.

The idea for the book came to Veenman two years ago, he says, when he was photographing a story about AIDS in Zambiaand feeling hopeless. He had traveled through the poor world for more than 10 years photographing in refugee camps and conflict zones, but his pictures didn't seem to be having any impact on policy. "Hundreds of people die in complete silence," he says. "And I thought at that time I could publish my pictures, like always, but it wouldn't change anything." So he conceived of the little book to carry his images of suffering to a wider audience. Together with four others who wish to remain anonymous, Veenman compiled a list of international high-flyers. A coalition of Dutch NGOs and private companies chipped in materials, funds and services worth $500,000 to print and distribute the book.

More than 1,000 copies of the slim volume were distributed at the U.N. General Assembly last week, and another 1.5 million will go to Dutch citizens. In October, the 56 photographs in the book will be blown up and displayed in the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington DC, in an exhibition supported by DATA, the anti-poverty group co-founded by Irish singer and activist Bono, of the band U2, who wrote the song whose lyrics supply the book's only words. "If you look at the book, there are only questions," says Veenman. "I don't give answers. I just ask: 'Why is there no war against poverty? We have a war against terror. But where's the war on poverty?'"