This is the first in a new series of blogs, perspectives on poverty, which takes you inside the world of communicating the fight against poverty to the public.
A few months ago, we had a bit of a rant about poverty p**n, the phenomenon of well-meaning westerners using guilt-inducing photos for fundraising. Today, we want to open it up a little more and show just how easy it is to a use a photo out of context to achieve this purpose.
The post is inspired by UNICEF, who despite doing some amazing work on the ground in some of the world’s most challenging places, have a habit of producing poverty p**n. The image you can see here comes from a newspaper website and was snapped a couple of weeks ago.
And, seeing how the photo’s been cropped, we wondered how easy it is to create a similarly desperate looking and guilt-inducing image from any photo.
So, we did a shout around the office for people’s travel photos, and found a photo that resembles one that most people who’ve spent time in developing countries would have – being swamped by local kids.
The intern who gave us the photo explained that the photo is of him “being mobbed on the local football field in the township by local kids who wanted to tackle me to the floor (WWF wrestling is all the rage out there) and play with my camera and sunglasses.”
It’s an innocuous image. It’s fun, it’s bright, it’s hopeful, and it’s representative of life in the townships a lot of the time. But, it’s not really in line with many of the images that the media and some NGOs choose to use to shock us.
So, with the challenge of making the image look like a dodgy fundraising poster, we took 5 minutes on a free, unsophisticated editing program to crop, colour and zoom. Here’s what we came up with. Throw on a caption such as ‘Help them have a better future’, and there go.
It’s not the most guilt-inducing image, but it’s a sample of how easy it is to strip an image of context and use it in ways that the people in the photo, and often even the photographer, never intended.
Beyond editing an actual photo, you can put people in a context that makes them look poor and needy, like Duncan McNicholl in this blog at Water Wellness.
The moral of the story?
People living in poverty aren’t just there for us to use as icons for fundraising. The story of those living in poverty is not the single narrative of need and deprivation that we often see in the media. In the words of Chimamanda Adichie in a recent TEDtalk, there’s danger in the “single story of poverty.”