Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Poverty Porn Images














The vulture and the little girl, 1993. Original title: Struggling Girl. Image credit: https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/vulture-little-girl/

Yesterday, at a High Impact Leadership session that I was involved in – one speaker showed the above print and spoke about hunger. 

In the pix, the vulture is waiting for the girl to die and to make a meal out of her. 

The photograph was taken by South African photojournalist, Kevin Carter, while on assignment in Sudan. 

It was in March 1993 that he made a trip to a location that is near the village of Ayod, Carter found a scrawny girl who had stopped to rest while struggling to a United Nations feeding center, whereupon a vulture had landed nearby. 

Careful not to disturb the bird, he waited for twenty minutes until the vulture was close enough, positioned himself for the best possible image and only then chased it away. 

At this point Carter was probably not yet aware that he had captured one of the most controversial pictures in the history of photojournalism. 

The snapshot was sold to The New York Times where it appeared for the first time on March 26, 1993. 

Practically overnight hundreds of people contacted the newspaper to ask whether the child had survived, leading the newspaper to run a special editor’s note saying the girl had enough strength to walk away from the vulture, but that her ultimate fate was unknown. 

Because of this, Carter was bombarded with questions about why he did not help the girl, and only used her to take a photograph. 

As with many dramatic photos, Carter came under severe criticism for this image. 

The St. Petersburg Times in Florida wrote: “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene”. 

The attitude that public opinion condemned was not only that of taking the picture instead of chasing the vulture immediately away, but also the fact that he did not help the girl afterwards – as Carter explained later – leaving her in such a weak state and yet, she did continue the march by herself towards the food distribution station. 

In all fairness, he was working in a time when photojournalists were told not to touch famine victims for fear of spreading disease. 

Carter estimated that there were twenty people per hour dying at the nourishment site. The child was not unique. 

Regardless, Carter had expressed regret that he had not done anything to help the girl – even though there was not much that he could have done. 

In 1994, Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer prize for that very photograph. And in that same year, he committed suicide due to depression. 

A BBC News report published July 24, 2018 highlighted a similar situation. 

Another lensman had put up for public display what his critics described as 'poverty porn' images. 

Alessio Mamo posed poor Indians in front of a table with "fake food" on it and made them cover their eyes. They were shot in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, two of India’s poorest states which have high rates of malnutrition. 

The photos, part of a series titled Dreaming Food, were taken in 2011 – a "conceptual project about hunger issue in India". They went viral after the World Press Photo Foundation shared them on Instagram.





















World Press Photos/Instagram

In the face of angry outrage, the World Press Photo Foundation posted a statement online which said that ultimately, photographers are "responsible for selecting their work" – and added that they were only given a set of "guidelines" to follow. 

In an email to the BBC, Mamo clarified that the goal of his project was to urge "people in the West to think, in a provocative way, about the waste of food". 

He added: "Maybe it did not work at all, maybe I did it in the wrong way, but I worked honestly and respectfully with all the people involved". 

In any case, Mamo apologized if his images had caused offence. 

I know many photographers built their careers exploiting misery. 

We need to remember too that like it or not, this is how much of the world lives. 

The poverty is real – and it is the direct result of an unfair economic system plus decades of governmental neglect. Still, that’s life, is it not? 

I don’t mean to sound uncaring. I am equally distressed that economically disadvantaged humans are used as props. 

We shouldn’t strip them of their last vestige of dignity. 

Then again because of these photos, there is genuine awareness of the pressing problem of poverty in India.

Sometimes, whether something is right or wrong can be difficult to establish. A question of perspective really.

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