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Photographing Poverty: Art as Education

photographing poverty
With the recent announcement of Brandon Stanton’s (Humans of New York) 11 country United Nations Global Tour, the power of photography and photographing poverty has become a topic of discussion.

Often international charities use pictures of ill children in order to garner sympathy and donations, but is this the proper way to illustrate the lives of these people? In many ways, by photographing the most at risk, usually the most empathetic women and children, photographers minimize the spectrum of people shown and the dialogue produced.

While many photographers are well-meaning, the photographs highlighting illness or famine dis-empower the subjects. The pictures only show a second in their lives and disregard other circumstances.

Of course, these pictures are often the call to action that many people need. With the visuals of the effects of malnutrition and stunted growth, people are more likely to donate than they would be just seeing words alone. Motivated by the faces of young children and poor women, people tend to donate to the international charities.

Many of the pictures are staged so that the subject appears as poor and at risk as possible. Of course, these pictures dubbed as “poverty porn” are not reflective of all of the afflicted demographics, nor of all their needs.

Usually, context or back stories are absent. Instead, these pictures stand alone and are meant to speak for themselves. Contrary to many other photographers, however, Stanton generally interviews his subjects and delves into their past. Having already traveled to two of the eleven countries on his list (Jordan and Iraq), Stanton’s pictures demonstrate the various walks of life and the circumstances behind them.

Instead of just showing a tragic picture, Stanton’s captioned photos create a dialogue surrounding poverty, illness and aid. Instead of telling people what is needed and to whom they should donate, Stanton’s photography empowers the subjects and offers a microphone to ask for what they need.

– Kristin Ronzi

Sources: Unite for Sight, Humans New York
Photo: BigStory