Riya de los Reyes9 months ago
Agree with your points, especially asking for their permission and giving them back the pictures! I do not photograph the poor, but in the instances that I did I tried to make sure they were 'in action', meaning they are working, plying their respective trades, with dignified postures. Not ALL the poor want help. There are the destitute, the really down-and-out AND then there are those who try their best to get out of their less than privileged circumstances. In my experience, children are more aware and sensitive to the people they meet more than we think - they can sense when you are 'using' them, which means they will either use you back to get your attention/beg for your money or they will despise you for doing what you are doing.
Thinking about the ethics of representing the poor is very important. I am originally from the Philippines and for a while, I think most independent films that came out from the country in the 2000s have been labelled as 'poverty porn' as well. The films mostly dealt with the lives of the poor, the delinquents and the criminals in squatter areas...which only perpetuated the image of a chaotic capital (Manila) and the people, incorrigibly corrupt. This is a personal opinion, of course, but while I think it is justified to get angry at structural oppression...it is also important to know that the poor can be empowered, that they are still individuals with their own capacity to help themselves and the capability to contribute to society.
Katalina is right to mention that pictures are often used to tell a story. The narratives constructed through and from the pictures are therefore crucial in how to preserve human dignity in representing the poor. If the aim is to 'change things', then there has to be allowance for the possibility of change for these people, and representation is one way. We want to lift them up, and also show the world that things are improving, or at least, that things can improve. This doesn't mean glossing over the harsh realities out there. "Shock images" still work, but only up to a point... after all, it can lead to desensitization? We do not want to devalue the devastating truths of poverty by saturating the media landscape with "shock images" that lose their power once overused.
I agree with Sylvain's points, but I do not think critiquing the ethics of representation means moving away from helping the poor, or avoiding our responsibilities from helping them. No. I think it functions as a check-and-balance for those involved in the non-profit orgs industry. Like someone said here, I think non-profits should be run as businesses and competitively, as much as possible. They should be competing as to which company is getting the most number of abused/trafficked children back in school or in therapy/care, the most number of houses built for post-disaster areas and the most number of entrepreneurial initiatives/skills-training courses started for the poor. Accountability and sustainability are important. If a company wants to hold fund-raising events/get donations, we need to see outcomes...not merely appeal to sentiments using pictures of the poor.