Three hundred and twenty-two

Documenting poverty

"Stan", from the $2 portrait project (offering $2 to anyone who asks for money in exchange for taking their photo). By Thomas Hawk on Flickr. Click on the image to see more of Stan's story.

Child begging on the streets. From bencor at

From anacoluthon at

For my first day of $4 a day, I’d like to delve into a related topic about how photography (and similarly writing) about poverty can touch a sore spot.  Should artists, writers, and photographers document poverty?

There is much debate over whether photography and video of poverty, especially those art pieces sold for money, is good or bad. While it is good to show the world the many faces of poverty and what it is like in those parts of the world that face extreme poverty, is it ok that some of those photographers and artists profit off of it?  A lot of the photos are beautiful, but should we be using other people’s tragedies for our own pleasure?  (As a side note: all the photographs I found from above were on free, photo sharing sites)

Although I understand the questions, I think the more images of the extreme poverty that many places in the world face, the better.  The good and the bad times.  It is important to talk about these things, and seeing them makes them all the more real.  It’s easy to deny a word, but an image is a harder thing to argue about.  There will always be those people who profit off of others’ misfortunes, but (and this could be a very naive thing to say), I think a lot of the photographers who devote their work to documenting poverty are doing it not for the money (although they do need to make some money to survive), but for the message they are getting out to the world.

Here are a few websites with some very strong images of poverty:

3 thoughts on “Three hundred and twenty-two

  1. I think this is a really interesting topic so wanted to add my 2 cents!

    I think it is appropriate to take photos of people living in poverty in certain circumstances. Note that I am looking at it less from an artist perspective and more from the perspective of someone who has worked with this population. A lot of times ‘outsiders’ (people who have never before visited a given community) walk in, photograph, gives gifts, etc. They are well intentioned but it can actually be really harmful and is looked upon very negatively by the adults.

    If you ask permission of the person you are photographing, sure- take as many photos as you want! I always ask the people I photograph and only a handful of times have been told no. The majority of the people I photograph I have built a relationship with, although this isn’t always the case, and for this I would be careful to exchange greetings first (introduce myself, how are you, etc.) and then ask if it is okay if I take a picture.

    Is it okay for people to profit off these photos? Honestly, not really. Unless the funds raise go to a program supporting that individual (rather than into the photographer’s pocket). It seems like exploitation to me if the photographer is profiting off the image, unless the subject of the photo is aware of what is going on and has given consent.


    • Thanks for your input Nik. You’ve had lots of experience with this topic and I’m glad you contributed. I agree it can easily become exploitation if there is no consent and the photographer is making money off the photo. I’d be interested to hear the perspective of those people who are photographers (I know there are a few of you out there who read the blog).

  2. Pingback: Three hundred and thirty-seven | threehundredsixtysixdays

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