photographing the worlds poorPhotography can inspire empathy and mobilize viewers to care more about the world around them. This is especially true for photography of the world’s poor. However, along with photography’s power comes an ethical responsibility to ensure that it does not objectify or exploit its subjects.

Photography of the World’s Poor: Inviting Empathy

Between a click of shutters and closed corner frames, moments freeze into ageless photographs. Photography invites the viewer into a new world and a new perspective through a single captured moment. Such invitation is essential to the impact of photography, as both an art form and a journalistic device.

Photography of the world’s poor is a powerful tool. Photographs offer a visual language, one that situates the viewer in a specific moment and allows headlines and statistics to become real and palpable. Many non-profit and news organizations have utilized photography of the world’s poor in order to inform, mobilize and inspire the public to further help those in need.

Studies: The Identifiable Victim and The Visual

Photography’s power stems in part from the identifiable victim effect, which “refers to peoples’ tendency to preferentially give to identified versus anonymous victims of misfortune.” The phenomenon connects one’s empathy with an ability to humanize and personalize another. A study in 2007 exemplified the identifiable victim effect by showing that people were likely to donate more when they were presented with a single individual, such as an image of an orphan that would benefit from their donation, than with a group statistic reflecting the millions in need.

Along with employing the identifiable victim effect, photography harnesses power as a visual medium. A 2013 study found that subjects were more likely to donate when they were given a photograph of an orphan than if they saw a silhouette of that child or her name. The study shows how the visual stimulation of an image generates a greater response in viewers than other personal but non-visual information.

Through its use of the identifiable victim effect and a visual medium, photography can inspire empathy and generosity in its viewers. Photography of the world’s poor can quite literally open the public’s eyes to the suffering and injustices that are taking place globally. It is difficult to wrap one’s mind around the millions of people suffering from extreme poverty, but looking at a portrait of a single individual suddenly makes the issues a lot more personal and pressing.

The Dangers of Photography: Poverty Porn

With photography’s power comes consequences. Photography of the world’s poor has the potential to objectify and exploit its subjects. Some describe such photos as “poverty porn.”

Poverty porn can be difficult to define, but it seeks to identify exploitative images that strive to be as horrifying and pitiful as possible in order to shock the viewer into feeling sympathy and oftentimes making a donation. Sometimes photographers may even stage subjects, positioning them to look particularly poor and helpless in order to capture a specifically desired image.

This type of photography is not only one-dimensional, but it is dangerous. Poverty porn creates a culture of paternalism and objectification that paints the viewers as saviors and reduces the poor down to their struggles. Furthermore, poverty porn disregards a community’s capability, strength and resilience, and instead “evokes the idea that the poor are helpless and incapable of helping themselves.” Rather than intelligent and competent agents, the poor become disempowered individuals, stripped of their dignity, in order to invoke a guilt-ridden response from the viewer.

Utilizing Photography for Good

For all its power and potential, photography of the world’s poor brings with it an ethical responsibility. When done right, photography can provide an important look into the lives it captures, giving voice to the voiceless and inspiring viewers to care more deeply for the world around them.

Yet, in utilizing this precious tool, it is also necessary to understand what remains unseen in these images. As described in an article in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “each image arises from a set of momentary, fragmented relationships embedded in asymmetrical power relations.” These “asymmetrical power relations” begin with the photographer’s choices and extends into the viewer’s perception of the image. It is important to remember that the individuals in the photograph do not always have a say in how they are depicted.

No photograph, no matter how justly done, can convey the full story: complex, intricate human lives cannot be completely captured by a two-dimensional frame. Yet, as written in the NCBI article, “our photographs — and [the] emotional reactions they produce — speak to both the very need for the image and the desire for it to capture what will literally ‘work’ for the agencies that commission their production.”

Photography’s ability to inspire empathy in viewers and connect the world through a single human moment is enough evidence that it is an art form worth utilizing in the fight against world poverty, when done correctly.

Jessica Blatt
Photo: Flickr


Health care is considered by many to be a fundamental right. However, there are so many people in the world that do not have access to the care and services they need, creating a global health crisis.

A project called Waiting for Health brings awareness to this problem through a photo series that chronicles the stories of those waiting for health care. The photos are taken by 12 photographers and focus on 12 different countries.

The Waiting for Health project was created by the Global Coalition for Universal Health Coverage. It also had support from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Ultimately, the project hopes to spark a conversation about the disparity that exists in health care around the world.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately one billion people in developing countries do not have the access to health care that they need due to a number of factors such as high costs, poor quality facilities as well as a shortage of health care workers.

A 2014 WHO World Health Statistic revealed that in the African Region there were approximately 2.6 physicians per 10,000 patients. The density of the remaining health workforce to the population is also concerning: nursing and midwife personnel (12), dentistry personnel (0.5) and pharmaceutical personnel (0.9).

Due to the lack of financial resources, many people living in extreme poverty often have to choose between getting the medical attention that they need or buying food for survival.

Waiting for Health hopes to rejuvenate the conversation surrounding health care. Photographer Aurelie Marrier d’Unienville says that the photos will give people a different perspective on health care in developing countries. The photos will add a touch of “humanity” giving viewers a better visual understanding of what is occurring around them.

“Statistics and surveys present us with inanimate and abstract figures of which we can’t relate,” she said. “These photos present a compelling and visual story, which can evoke a sense of real understand and empathy.”

Her photos focused on the health care crisis in Guinea, but the series documents many other global experiences. Another example focuses on Libyan refugees in Norway waiting for mental health care.

According to the Waiting for Health website, “We hope these photographs inspire all of us to slow down and think more deeply about what really needs to change and make universal health care coverage a reality,”

Alyson Atondo

Sources: European Parliamentary Research Service, World Bank, Waiting for Health, Mashable
Photo: Flickr

humans of new york
It’s a common occurrence to browse on a social media site and see “#firstworldproblems.” Along with this hashtag come complaints of not wanting to wake up and go to work, food not being exactly how its partaker would like it and many times how technology is not working properly.

In contrast, this past week, Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton embarked on a world tour. Partnered with the U.N. and with the support of the Secretary General’s Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group, he is traveling 25,000 miles and photographing in 10 different countries showing the world, in particular the “first world,” what those less fortunate endure on a daily basis.

For his second stop on this 50 day tour, Stanton arrived in Jordan. Most photos taken in this Middle Eastern country were taken in the refugee camp Za’atari. A caption accompanies these photos with the person’s story or a simple phrase that was said. In many cases, nothing rings more true than the idea that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Syrian refugees have come into Jordan and made Za’atari a make-shift home after fleeing their country due to the 2011 civil war outbreak. The Syrian Refugees website stated that the United Nations report from earlier this year declared that Za’atari is the second largest refugee camp in the world, with 80,000 refugees, making it the fourth largest city in Jordan.

Pictures that Stanton has posted while in Jordan show life in the camp, both the hardships and trials, but they also demonstrate that these displaced Syrians are trying to make a new life.

A photo of a man was posted just of his face with a slight smile. Under the photo was his story. He was taken by officers at a checkpoint in Syria and beaten. The only way to end the torture was to say that he murdered eleven soldiers, for which he was cast into prison. This refugee said, “But I never killed any soldiers. I never fought anyone. I’m a good person. I have a very sweet heart,” and still begging for belief in his innocence said, “You believe me when I tell you this, don’t you?”

Another picture is of a mother and a son on a couch and told of the day they decided to leave Syria: the day his brother was murdered.

While pictures of individuals and their stories show the pain, anguish and fear these refugees have been through, Stanton also highlights the good, simplistic things of life: a woman who joked with him for taking so many pictures and a pair of children- one in a wheelbarrow, while the other pushed- trying to get to their grandma’s house.

Through the good and the bad, these photos show just how strong and resilient the human spirit truly is.

– Kori Withers

Sources: Syrian Refugees, Humans of New York, Facebook: Humans of New York
Photo: NYTimes

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

A skilled Italian photographer, Gabriele Galimberti traveled the world in search of a path formed by his passion. And if only by mere happenstance, that is exactly what occurred.

Using, Galimberti visited country after country and stayed with hosts of varied races, religions, ages and countenances. The kindness and trust inherent in an individual willing to make space for a complete and utter stranger was not lost on Galimberti. He intended to document the phenomenon in order to make the world a better place.

Yet two years and 58 countries later, after compiling stories of over 100 couch-surfing hosts, another idea had transpired. Inspired by a photo taken before his journey abroad, Galimberti took at least one photo of a child and his or her favorite toys in each country he visited. Toy Stories, a series of portraits, features a conglomeration of photos precisely in this manner.

The photographs document a multitude of cultures and social classes, creating a foundation for discussion of values and aspirations. Whereas Galimberti may have spent hours earning the trust of more well-off children before he was permitted to touch their toys, he describes a stark contrast in poorer countries where children were far less possessive and exhibited an increased inclination to share toys among friends and strangers.

While the project was not intended to display any particular message to viewers, the similarities and differences between children are clear. The worlds and cultures within which each child is born, and the desires parents portray in delivering specific toys to their children were clear to Galimberti. While one boy might love Monopoly because he hopes to build hotels some day, another may enjoy playing with trucks that reminds him of those he hears throughout his village each day. Regardless of socioeconomic status or the geographical context of each toy, every child expressed an equal desire to play.

That is what Toy Stories has brought to the world–an appreciation for the simplicity of toys among the many complications and expectations of everyday life here on Earth.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Gabriel Galimberti, Huffington Post, CNN
Photo: Amazing Stories

In developed nations, climate change becomes a reality when hybrids peak in sales. But to photographers Nyani Quarmyne and Nii Obodai, climate change poses an immediate and tangible threat.

In “We Were Once Three Miles From the Sea,” the photographers engage with the people of Totope, Ghana. As waves engulf the coastal village, these men convey the urgency of climate change in Ghana.

High waters forced residents to retreat to land unfit for farming. The sea continues to advance on the village, displacing more than a thousand people. Garbage from the cities of Accra and Tema cover the beach each morning, as the rising tide threatens to bury homes in sand and waste.

Within three years, the sea will encroach an additional twelve to eighteen meters. This threatens the safety and economy of Totope. Yet Quarmyne and Obodai challenge the conventional portrayal of Africans as victims.

Quarmyne has encountered both Western and African culture in his life. Born in India, he lived a rather nomadic lifestyle with his Ghanaian father and Filipino mother. His upbringing helps him blur the lines between cultures. Though hehas lived in regions across the globe – from Canada to Australia – Quarmyne considers Ghana home.

Obodai also feels cultural ties to Ghana. He builds on this relationship through photography, featuring portraits of men and women across Ghana.

“Where are we at the moment?” Obodai said. “How can I translate through photography without being too literal?”

Africans documenting Africans has the potential to counter conventional depictions, according to Quarmyne. Though wary of generalizing, he expresses concern that Western photography appears paternalistic. Mass media disseminates these images and as a result, reinforces paternalistic policy and perceptions.

The photographers add complexity to African image. In the past, the Western world simplified issues in the continent, asserts Quarmyne.

He and Obodai sought to personalize African life. The men tread carefully between raising awareness and soliciting charity, and between treating the subjects as survivors rather than victims. Though Obodai tends to speak in more poetic terms, both stress the political message behind these images.

Treating climate change as an immeasurable, amorphous challenge cannot continue. The Totope people give a face to climate change, reminding the world that climate change is an undeniable reality.

– Ellery Spahr 

Photo: Global Communities
New York Times, Al Jazeera

The newest collection at the Brooklyn Museum offers unapologetic effects of violence around the world in a new exhibit titled “WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath.” The collection features works by 225 photographers from all walks of life including military members, commercial portraitists, journalists, amateurs and Pulitzer Prize winners.

Nearly 400 pieces are present in a variety of mediums such as prints, books, magazines, albums and photography equipment. The exhibit allows visitors to explore the evolving relationship between war and photography over the last 166 years.

Several iconic pieces are present including Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph of solders holding up the American flag on the battlefield in Iwo Jima and Robert Clarks’s images of the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Unknown works like “Valentine with her daughters Amelie and Inez” offer new perspectives on continuing issues of violence. In the photo, Valentine stands in front of a house with two young girls, her arms wrapped around one.

The image depicts the struggles of Rwandan women during the early nineties, when instances of violence and rape swept the region. The two girls with Valentine are her daughters, one conceived through marriage, the other by rape.

Other images in the collection show the endurance of humanity in the face of endless violence such as Mark A. Grimshaw’s First Cut, which illustrates an American soldier cultivating a small patch of grass in the middle of the harsh Iraqi landscape.

Some works, on the other hand, are simply heartbreaking as in the case of W. Eugene Smith’s “Dying Infant Found by American Soldiers in Saipan,” June, 1944 depicting a soldier holding the baby in his arms as another soldier watches on.

Rather than a strictly historical account of past wars, the organizers of the exhibition aim to not only reflect the effects of violence in the world but also, explore the connection between violence and photography. The exhibit’s curator, Anne Tucker explains that despite the sheer volume of images and variety of locations, certain patterns are evident in the type of photographs produced from such occurrences.

Those interested in learning more about the collection can visit the Brooklyn Museum website or visit the exhibit in person until February 2.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: The New York Times, Brooklyn Museum

It’s hard to say exactly how much of an impact a photo can have. At the risk of cliché, I won’t say that a picture is worth 1,000 words. Imagine seeing hundreds of photographs that detail not only a child’s appearance and age, but also the place they call their own – where they sleep.

James Mollison decided to take on that mission himself. A 40-year-old native of Kenya who grew up in England, Mollison had always been interested in art and design. He graduated from Oxford Brooks University and, later, Newport School of Art and Design with degrees in art, design, film, and photography. After attaining his degree, Mollison moved to Italy in order to work at Fabrica, Benetton’s communications research center and creative lab. This was where the idea for the Where Children Sleep Photography Project came about.

Among his other achievements and publications lies this creation, published in November 2010 – “stories of diverse children around the world, told through portraits and pictures of their bedroom.”

The aforementioned juxtaposition is exactly what Mollison longed to create, in order to point out the inequalities that exist all over the world. The two extremes he found most interesting were in a top-floor apartment in New York and a mud hut in Lesotho, Africa: the bedrooms of Jaime and Lehlohonolo.

Jamie went to a prestigious school in the area. He also had quite a hectic schedule filled with extracurricular activities such as judo, swimming, cello, and kickball. He would often study his finances on the Citibank website.

Lehlohonolo, in contrast, lived a highly different life. Along with his three brothers, who were AIDS orphans, he lived in a mud hut. The floor of this hut was where the boys would sleep, “cuddling up to each other for warmth during the freezing cold nights. Two of Lehlohonolo’s brothers walked to a school eight kilometers away where they are also given monthly rations of food -– cereal, pulses and oil. They couldn’t remember the last time they ate meat. Sadly, they will probably live in poverty for the rest of their lives because crops are difficult to grow on the infertile land and there are no prospects of employment. The vulnerability of these kids was very upsetting.”

When asked what he hoped people would take away from this collection of photos, Mollison said, “We tend to inhabit a small world of friends, family, work, school etc. I hope the book gives a glimpse into the lives some children are living in very diverse situations around the world; a chance to reflect on the inequality that exists, and realize just how lucky most of us in the developed world are.”

– Samantha Davis

Sources: New York Times BlogWhere Children SleepHuffington Post
Photo: Visual News

Heifer International has teamed up with high-class fashion magazine Hunger to conduct a photography competition aimed at raising awareness of hunger. Founded in 1944, Heifer International is a non-profit that aspires to raise people out of poverty by providing them with livestock and agricultural training. Now, they are trying to get new circles of society talking about hunger.

According to President and CEO Pierre Ferrari, the contest’s goal is to “get a new segment of society talking about a sensitive subject” using the power of imagery. He believes, “A single image can raise awareness, capture the essence of what we are trying to do, and possibly end the plague of poverty.” Specifically, he is hoping that the competition will help start conversations in upper-class social circles, where it can be easy to ignore poverty in our own society and around the world. Hunger magazine provides the perfect platform for these discussions. “A place of culture like Hunger magazine,” Ferrari said, “enables [Heifer International] to reach out to people with different perspectives on humanity, and it gives us an ability to start a new discussion.”

All photographers, from amateurs to professionals, were asked to submit images that they felt portrayed the word “hunger.” Submissions were taken online through a creative platform Talenthouse between May 21 and July 2, 2013. During the following two weeks, a public vote determined the finalists.

Submissions came in from all over the world. They include a confronting still life contrasting a barren table with an opulent one, an image of silverware with bites taken out of them, and numerous shots of extremely skinny women with bones protruding. Some critics have raised the concern that such images contribute more to the glorification of eating disorders as something necessary to reach the peak of fashion, and accuse them of diverting attention away from world poverty. However, Ferrari trusts his audience to draw their own connections, suggesting that “the reader/audience is a lot more intellectual than in the past” and that integrating the fashion world into the realm of fine art photography can widen the competition’s potential audience.

The winner will be chosen by renowned fashion photographer Rankin, who oversees the production of Hunger magazine. His decision was supposed to be announced on July 23, but he has requested additional time, citing the large quantity of excellent submissions.

This competition is an excellent illustration of high-class society effectively using its resources to benefit the greater good. It is imperative to get people talking about and working against hunger, and the high-class fashion circles represent a largely untapped resource on this front. Hunger magazine is commendably using its reputation as a platform for activism, an example that other corporations would do well to emulate.

Katie Fullerton

Sources: Mail Online, Heifer International, Hunger TV, Talenthouse
Photo: Facebook

#ThisAbility PortraitsThis year’s State of the World’s Children Report, released by UNICEF, focuses on children with disabilities. The adjoining social media campaign has recently gained a lot of traction on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in raising awareness about the surprising facts surrounding children and disabilities worldwide.

The campaign, marked by the hashtag #ThisAbility, encourages people to submit pictures of people overcoming their disabilities in astounding ways. The top 15 photographers will have their work displayed at UNICEF’s Manhattan headquarters, and the top 5 will receive a variety of UNICEF gear.

Nearly 100 million children suffer from a mild or severe disability, according to the report. Though this figure is largely speculative, they add up to 1 in every 20 children aged 14 and younger. While disabilities come in varying degrees, the similarity “lies [in] the shared experience of being defined and judged by what one lacks rather than by what one has.”

Children with disabilities are often seen as inferior to their peers without disabilities. They experience discrimination and marginalization on a daily basis. This is mostly due to a lack of awareness by governments about the extent of the problem.

“Few countries have reliable information on how many of their citizens are children with disabilities, what disabilities they have or how these disabilities affect their lives,” according to the report. Families oftentimes don’t report their child’s disability for fear of ostracism by the community. Because the government is unaware that these children exist in such a great number, the public services never reach those who need it most.

UNICEF is advocating for full ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which calls for an equalization of social liberties for people living with disabilities. With this report, UNICEF hopes to receive full ratification of the treaty (27 countries still haven’t signed) and to mobilize political action on the international level.

The report ends on a hopeful note: “Disability does not mean incapability: It is the wonderful diversity that enriches humankind.”

– Kathryn Cassibry

Sources: UNICEFHuffington Post