Photographer’s photo series sparks heated debate and accusations of ‘poverty porn’

Narjas Zatat@Narjas_Zatat
Wednesday 25 July 2018 11:30
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Picture:(iStock image and Twitter screengrab )

A photographer has been accused of peddling poverty porn after pictures he took in two of India’s poorest states went viral after being featured on a well known photography Instagram page.

Italian photographer Alessio Mamo photographed Indian children in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in front of ‘fake food’ and asked them to cover their eyes.

The photos, part of a series called Dreaming Food, were taken in 2011, but given a new lease of life after the World Press Photo Foundation – boasting almost one million followers – featured them on its Instagram page.

Mamo had captioned the series, saying:

[He] told people to dream about some food they would like to find on their table.

He described the work as a "conceptual project about hunger issue in India".

Mamo took over World Press Photo Foundation’s account, an honour the organisation regularly bestows upon photographers. After the photographs were uploaded, condemnation came on swift wings.

Hari Adivarekar, an Indian photojournalist wrote:

This is poor journalism and even poorer humanity.

Too many have come and done this kind of shameful work in India and their rewards just open the door for many others to think it’s ok. It isn’t. It’s just inexcusable.

Others echoed his sentiments, and another user wrote:

I am out of words for this insensitive project. I feel so lost in so many levels. How is this a conceptual photography? Where is the dignity? This is a pure example of misrepresentation and poverty porn! Very offensive. I feel so sad for these people being tortured like this. Sickening!

Another wrote:

Utterly shameful. Take this down, please Non-negotiable. Do not dehumanise and perpetuate objectification, insensitivity, idiocy, ignorance and arrogance.

A third dubbed the photographs "disgusting":

Brown bodies as props to help enlighten the western world? Talk about having lost your grasp on common sense, compassion and altruism. in your privilege, you’ve demeaned human beings that are already hurting. 

Every human deserves respect and you had none for these people or their circumstances. Inexcusable and quite frankly, disgusting. 

Thousands of people took to multiple social media platforms to condemn the photo series as exploitation, arguing that Mamo’s representation of the two Indian children was patronising and demeaning, and strengthened negative stereotypes of the country and its inhabitants.

Following criticism, World Press Photo stated that Mamo took over the account from 16 July to the 22 July:

The photographers are responsible for selecting their work to show and writing their captions. They can present a portfolio of past work or a current project.

Mamo eventually wrote a statement in reply to the criticism on his Medium page, but it has since been deleted.

Author Suchita Vijayan posted a response Mamo gave to an Instagram user in the comment section:

This conceptual project wanted to criticise the West societies where unfortunately every year tons of food are thrown away. For this reason, I deliberately used that kind of scenario.

My intention was exactly to represent in a stereotyped way these Indian landscape in order to reinforce the concept. [sic]

This was the idea behind, maybe I did It wrong, or maybe just you don’t like or you think it’s unethical, but the concept was the problematise food waste in front of the hunger in this area of the world. [sic]

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