Picturesque Poverty

The onslaught of social media rendered by easy accessibility of digital SLR cameras has given birth to a new  breed of self – proclaimed photographers who constantly try to wheedle people around in order to sate their narcissistic tendencies. I see a common  trend in these portraits, most of the pictures are riddled with malnourished children, child workers and in general the less privileged. Thanks to the advent of  Slum Tourism these photographers don’t have to be industrious in finding the subjects for their artistic endeavors (my eyes are doing a 360), they can just walk into the slums as they would in a  zoo and capture all the squatter and its inhabitants. Then, it would be a matter of seconds to convert the portraits to black and whites  and slap their names on them.

So, how does an aspiring photographer gets the notion that picturing half-naked children and paupers on the street is art and is aesthetically pleasing from an artistic point of view? Well, they just look around and see Slumdog millionaire getting an Oscar and God of small things getting a Booker. Skin and bones is a thriving industry and every one wants to jump on this bandwagon. What started as an elitist pursuit of understanding poverty has turned into a resource to be exploited.

There is no denying the noble and practical reasons for taking these pictures, they do tell a story and educate the rest of the world. It’s all well and good but, the  problem is with the ulterior motive tied to these pictures. There are families in Africa who earn 50 cents for 2-3 days of hard labor, they have severely malnourished children and fight hunger and diseases on a daily basis. A photographer taking their picture earns a minimum of 300 dollars for clicking them,  striping them off their dignity and intruding the privacy of their homes. It is beyond unfair.

The copyright laws give the full ownership of a picture to its photographer, the people being clicked do not have any say in the profits made from it. These laws need to be revisited and people being portrayed should be entitled to the part ownership of the photograph. Authenticity of displaying the  stark reality in 2 dimension is all together a different story. One would think that the indigenous photographers would take different pictures than their western counterparts, but that is not the case. Photographers in Africa have no more higher moral ground than photographers from the west.

If the community being portrayed is not getting any thing back then,  in my opinion, this the plagiarism of the worst kind, we are plagiarizing the very existence of a person. So, when you decide to take a picture of a smiling child with his hands extended forward to receive the candy you are about to give him. Think twice, don’t be that guy who goes to Africa or slums of India and changes nothing.



Filed under Journalism

8 responses to “Picturesque Poverty

  1. I totally agree with you, and there is such a thing as a model release, but it is irrelevant in the context of which you speak. Professional photogs, to be sure, if not tourists as well, should at least have the decency to give people a couple of bucks. This is not charity, it is compensation.

    Journalists are another breed, though. They will take anything they can get and claim immunity from copyright to the images as such, but may well end up using them for selfish profit. I’m sorry. poverty is not news.

    You may enjoy my photo/graphic work at

    • Thanks for reading my post and agreeing with me. My blood boils to the brim when I see pictures depicting poverty as some kind of art.
      I looked at your blog, those are the kind of pictures I like to see 🙂 They are beautiful!!

  2. vibhuti

    Nice article..Agreed…the only one reason will make it a bit less cruel or justifiable is when these pics are clicked with a reason to show what is the condition of human lives in some parts of the world while we have the luxury of the comfortable life..and it sometimes makes you realize the reality of life also motivating other people to do something for the underprivileged..

  3. Interesting topic. It makes sense to have the subject of a photo like these benefit from its use–the Amish folks in our area are always harrassed by tourists mauling them with cameras.

  4. well u’ve said this well..
    not all photographers come out of such situations without it affecting their lives.. i guess you know about the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Kevin Carter who shot the world famous pic of the vulture and the child.

    Media coverage does result in taking the issue to the public, but, like there are two sides to a coin, this is the other side.

  5. Yes, I am aware. There are many photographers who give back to the community. Let’s just hope that there are a lot more of those. It would be the best if they make some amendment in the copyright laws so that people can rightfully earn what is theirs.

    Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate it .

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