A picture speaks a thousand words, as they say. And capturing poverty is a very easy way to generate a bunch of emotions in the viewers- from shock and disbelief to anger and pity.
Some even consider poverty photography aesthetic. The teary eyes, hunger-stricken bodies with all skin and bone, torn clothes that reveal much more than hiding, all seem very photogenic to photojournalists around the world. Nudity is sometimes shown in these pictures purposefully to emphasize the picture of helplessness and discomfort of the underprivileged people.
The naked reality hits hard. These photographs have always evoked controversies, be it people's grudge towards the photographer, or judgment about the reason behind the poverty.
At the same time, it cannot be denied that such photographs are required for gaining support for campaigns, raising voices against exploitations, and making the government take necessary actions. Often for charity, poverty photographs are used to acquire sympathy.
But there's a real thing to consider- isn't it humiliating for the underprivileged people to have their lives exposed to the world and their struggle traded?
Dorothea Lange came into fame with her iconic photo, the 'Migrant Mother' which portrayed a woman who struggled to feed her children during the great depression in the US. The single photo made the path for similar poverty photographs that raise voices against the government. But the fact is, the woman didn't get any money from the photo. Florence Thompson, the lady in the picture, later complained that Dorothia published the photo without her permission, and she even didn't ask her name. Still, the photo depicted the story of hunger, and hopelessness in a dignified way.
No one can forget the Pulitzer-winning photo, 'The vulture and the little girl' that shook the whole world. Though there were many controversies on why the photographer didn't scare off the bird or feed the child, it undoubtedly created a mass awareness of famine that broke out in Sudan, more than newspaper essays would do.
There are some ethics that a photographer should follow while taking photos that display poverty
If the photographer is taking close-up shots, he should ask for permission first. If he wants to raise concern over an issue, knowing the whereabouts of the subject is necessary. Bribing the subject to show a certain emotion, or do a particular activity that they normally don't do, to falsify the scenario, is highly unethical. The same goes for digital manipulation during post-processing as well. Only if they do their job honestly, with good intentions, they can contribute significantly to make the world a better place.
Exposure of financial conditions isn't limited to individuals only, it reveals a country and its economic health.
Foreign photographers often take special interest to capture the lifestyle of the poverty-stricken people of the developing countries, which they call the 'real face' of a country. It creates a terrible misconception. Just as a country cannot be known for only its skyscrapers, it should not be known for the slums it holds too. It establishes the fact that the role of a photographer who clicks poverty doesn't end with publishing the photo, rather starts there. He must be aware of the huge impact that his photo would create among the mass, and take his job as a social responsibility.
It's time to shift the views from pity to respect. The underprivileged people deserve the same dignity from the photographers as the well-off ones.
Written by Sanga Basu, Content Writer, WPC.