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Roger Hicks
11-05-2010, 08:38
Have you ever done it? Why?

The question is prompted by something ebino said: Could you possibly photograph slum duelers [sic] in India effectively and know how they feel, when you just had lunch in a fancy restaurant and the gear in your camera bag would provide them food and shelter for a year?

I'm not quite sure what he meant, but when I was working for the Tibetan Government in Exile, yes, I certainly photographed some very poor people. How about a one-roomed house, no toilet, nearest running water a standpipe outside, roof repaired with tar-paper, walls papered with magazines to keep out the Himalayan cold? It was for a propaganda book, Hidden Tibet. A decade or so after I last photographed her, Pema Yangzom died there. Her daughter told me that she maintained to the end that it was only temporary: she had a house in Tibet.

How much good would it have done if I'd given up eating? (Not that 'fancy restaurant' meant much in Dharamsala in the 1980s.) And if I'd given away my cameras, I could hardly have taken pictures.

Also, what's a 'slum'? To me, it's a filthy hovel. There have been a few Tibetans and Indians I've known (well enough to eat and drink with, not just casual acquaintances or photo-subjects) who have lived in real poverty (unable to afford to send their kids to school, unable to replace the glass in the windows), but their single-room dwellings were cleaner and tidier than some middle-class houses I've seen in the USA, UK and France.

What do others think?

Cheers,

R.

Andy Kibber
11-05-2010, 08:46
tlitody posted a link to an interesting interview with Don McCallum in a recent thread. McCallum gives an account of photographing poor folks.

The videos are here: http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/exhibition/donmccullin/video.asp

The thread is here: http://www.rangefinderforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=97047

EDIT: Rats, looks like the videos are no longer on the National Media Museum site.

Mark A. Fisher
11-05-2010, 08:47
I recently had this discussion with some of my Photo 1 students, specifically regarding one of James Nachtwey's photos of famine, I believe in Ethiopia. If you are going to be a documentary photographer there is a difficult balance regarding your own humanity versus your chosen mandate to record the suffering of others. The natural human reaction (I would hope) when confronted with dying/dead infants/children/women/men is to reach out and help, to alleviate their suffering, to put down the camera and pick up the child. The photojournalists' natural reaction is to record the scene in a sensitive manner, to disseminate the image, to sound the alarm so that others will follow, to bring the necessary supplies and materials, housing and medicines, to make the body whole again, the society, the country - whatever there is in that setting that needs global response and local action to resolve and heal.

Sometimes you can do both. Many times, you can do neither. But you have to keep trying.

My opinion only.

M

antiquark
11-05-2010, 08:49
If anything, coming from a non-impoverished environment probably helps with photographing poverty, because the differences between the rich and poor will stand out more obviously.

Roger Hicks
11-05-2010, 08:59
Dear Mark,

Fortunately, no-one was dying. They weren't even starving, though there were times when they went hungry. I was surrounded with poverty, but not with beggars. Some of what I did in the 80s (and even 90s) may have helped the Tibetan cause, and I've bought food and drink for friends and contacts and given money to people I didn't know so well.

It's only tangential to making a career out of crusading photojournalism (which I don't think I could handle), but at least I've 'walked the walk' for a few paces to help a cause I believe in. I'm interested in hearing both from those who do it 'for real' (as crusading journalists) and those who have photographed poverty for other reasons -- if there are other reasons.

Cheers,

R.

Darkhorse
11-05-2010, 09:22
I'm reminded of the last season of HBO's The Wire. The Baltimore Sun decides to do a report on homelessness in the city, so a journalist for the paper hangs out around a few homeless people for a few hours and produces semi-fabricated melodramatic schmaltz about how he walked among the downtrodden. The paper executives, eager for a Pulitzer, are delighted with it while the other reporters see straight through it. Later on another reporter revisits the subject, focuses on one specific man (a predominant character in the show) and treats the subject with empathy and sensitivity. The report is unapologetic, has the facts, and gets to the heart of the matter. Unfortunately, it goes largely unappreciated.

I think the same can be applied to photography of the less fortunate in how we approach a subject.

RichC
11-05-2010, 09:52
Not yet - but I may.

The essential question is "Why?" There needs to be a good reason, otherwise it's exploitation. The reason does not necessarily have to be humanistic, highlighting the plight of those photographed: it can be entirely personal, like the studies Richard Billingham made of his drunk father and obese mother: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Billingham.

"Because s/he caught my eye" is not good enough: look around the web and you'll find galleries by street photographers that include the occasional gratuitous homeless person or someone suffering with an alcohol or drug problem. That's bang out of order in my book...

dcsang
11-05-2010, 09:54
I honestly think if you're going to photograph poverty you should at least "live" with the poverty. Become part of the impoverished. Make friends with those in the situation. Shake hands with poverty itself.

What I mean is, I can easily walk around town, eating well, living well and shooting (as Ebino suggested) the impoverished from a distance (or even up close) but this does not help my truly understand their situation. If I want to really get the photos that can help me help them (and vice versa) then I honestly believe I would have to live with them in order to understand and truly empathize.

This is merely my opinion mind you.

Cheers,
Dave

MCTuomey
11-05-2010, 10:02
I make photos of poor folks in and around Detroit. I meet them, we talk, maybe get something to eat or drink, share a bit of money. I'm not sure why I do it. Part affinity, part voyeurism, part interest in their histories, part photographic aesthetic.

If *ebino* is suggesting that the guilt or embarrassment my more fortunate self may feel in the presence of poor folks can or should prevent me from making photos, that's a sound ethic from a humane, empathetic point of view. I'm able to photograph up to a certain point. Serious deprivation, apparent illness, suffering - I refrain.

sparrow6224
11-05-2010, 10:32
One can debate forever the nuances of the moral situation of hte photographer taking pictures -- of Native Americans in 1877 or in the South Bronx in 1977 or in Dharfur today. There are two important things to remember: the morality of the artist is irrelevant to the value of the 'thing made'. In other words an evil carpenter can make a beautiful and fully functional chair. So each of us -- particularly if we are from the Western developed economies -- has to come to terms with the destruction and the deprivation on which virtually ALL of our prosperity lies. Each of us is implicated whether we take pictures or not. But this has no affect on the value of the photography or, in my case, writing that we might do. Here, the standards are as they have forever been: the infinite possibilities for beauty, authority, and power when we manage to serve the requirements of form and the requirements of truth. This is the lesson of The Wire anecdote: not that reporter B was a better man: he wrote a truer story. Sentimentality pleases us all at one time or another but it invariably distorts both form and truth and so is the biggest enemy.

I would add, having been poor on many occasions (but more though my own choices than through opportunities demied) and, more relevantly, having lived in poor urban neighborhoods for many years at a time that one of the forms of suffering that falls upon the poor in modern times is invisibility. So quite often they don't mind how much the camera cost because many of them know that they want to be in the picture.

jan normandale
11-05-2010, 10:40
Have you ever done it? Why? .....

What do others think?

Cheers,

R.

I see people on grates, wheel chairs, crutchs, cardboard boxes every day asking for money. I have never taken a photograph of people in poverty. What do I think? I never saw this 15 years ago. I think photography will not cure this situation, because it's been documented by photographers before and nothing improved these peoples lives. I wish it could.

newspaperguy
11-05-2010, 10:51
Two thoughts:
1 -The idea that you have to live it to portray it professionally is pure BS.
Ask any working journalist.

2 - Depends on who you're shooting for. Almost any situation can be
depicted to present a predetermined point of view. We all have
prejudices and employers have interests.

Pickett Wilson
11-05-2010, 11:01
I'm with Jan on this one. Photography can't change the world. And a lot of photographers have tried. All these constant images accomplish is to induce compassion fatigue.

Pablito
11-05-2010, 11:44
Have you ever done it? Why?

The question is prompted by something ebino said: Could you possibly photograph slum duelers [sic] in India effectively and know how they feel, when you just had lunch in a fancy restaurant and the gear in your camera bag would provide them food and shelter for a year?

I'm not quite sure what he meant, but when I was working for the Tibetan Government in Exile, yes, I certainly photographed some very poor people. How about a one-roomed house, no toilet, nearest running water a standpipe outside, roof repaired with tar-paper, walls papered with magazines to keep out the Himalayan cold? It was for a propaganda book, Hidden Tibet. A decade or so after I last photographed her, Pema Yangzom died there. Her daughter told me that she maintained to the end that it was only temporary: she had a house in Tibet.

How much good would it have done if I'd given up eating? (Not that 'fancy restaurant' meant much in Dharamsala in the 1980s.) And if I'd given away my cameras, I could hardly have taken pictures.

Also, what's a 'slum'? To me, it's a filthy hovel. There have been a few Tibetans and Indians I've known (well enough to eat and drink with, not just casual acquaintances or photo-subjects) who have lived in real poverty (unable to afford to send their kids to school, unable to replace the glass in the windows), but their single-room dwellings were cleaner and tidier than some middle-class houses I've seen in the USA, UK and France.

What do others think?

Cheers,

R.

I think ebino was talking about slum duelers, not slum dwellers. Being poor, these duelers have to carry out their duels with fists or home-made weapons, not the traditional pistols or swords. I would have a hard time photographing such a violent conflict after eating lunch in any of the fancy restaurants I routinely frequent before photographing slum dwellers.

MatthewThompson
11-05-2010, 11:54
I think he was right in a bit of a twisted way. I think that shooting photos of people less fortunate than yourself should have some sort of connection or purpose behind it. On the other hand, I certainly don't think photography is a political action exclusively for the left wing. That's BS. As for the value of gear and local standards of living: there's a difference between using a well-made tool and rolling into the slums in a white chauffeured Rolls. Again, BS.

Personal enrichment, raising awareness, connecting with fellow citizens, learning stories etc might be considered motives. Is it a fun passtime? I don't think so. I tend to use a camera like a pen and paper but I don't doodle idly much these days. If I'm going to shoot a photo-doc, it's go to have something in it for me as well as the subject. Otherwise what's the point?

Roger Hicks
11-05-2010, 12:04
I'm with Jan on this one. Photography can't change the world. And a lot of photographers have tried. All these constant images accomplish is to induce compassion fatigue.

Then what does change the world? Apathy? Celebrity worship?

"Compassion fatigue" is (I suspect) a pernicious myth propagated by those in (undeserved) power who fear the loss of that power, and gratefully received by those who are looking for an excuse to do nothing.

Sure, we aren't all affected equally by all we see. We can look at as much as 90 per cent of it and think, "Yeah, well, nothing new there, the place was always a disaster area."

But then, there will be something we see, something we hear, something we understand, something that strikes a chord. Then we'll add our voices to the others crying in the wilderness. And the world does change. Otherwise there'd be no rule of law, no old age pensions, no concern for the weak, the sick, the infirm. And, come to think of it, the American colonies would still be colonies. Does ANYONE believe that if photography had existed in the 1770s, there'd not have been propaganda photographers on both sides?

And a pox on those who suggest that, perhaps, Americans have never been fit for self-government.

Cheers,

R.

emraphoto
11-05-2010, 12:05
I couldn't agree more. Most of the time I can see right through efforts passed off otherwise.



I honestly think if you're going to photograph poverty you should at least "live" with the poverty. Become part of the impoverished. Make friends with those in the situation. Shake hands with poverty itself.

What I mean is, I can easily walk around town, eating well, living well and shooting (as Ebino suggested) the impoverished from a distance (or even up close) but this does not help my truly understand their situation. If I want to really get the photos that can help me help them (and vice versa) then I honestly believe I would have to live with them in order to understand and truly empathize.

This is merely my opinion mind you.

Cheers,
Dave

John Lawrence
11-05-2010, 12:12
Otherwise there'd be no rule of law, no old age pensions, no concern for the weak, the sick, the infirm.


Welcome to today's United Kingdom.

John

antiquark
11-05-2010, 12:20
Then what does change the world? Apathy? Celebrity worship?

Maybe the world progresses the way science does:

"Science advances one funeral at a time." -- Max Planck

Mister E
11-05-2010, 12:23
I try to photograph everything. I do it in a respectful manner if possible.

Roger Hicks
11-05-2010, 12:27
I honestly think if you're going to photograph poverty you should at least "live" with the poverty. Become part of the impoverished. Make friends with those in the situation. Shake hands with poverty itself.

What I mean is, I can easily walk around town, eating well, living well and shooting (as Ebino suggested) the impoverished from a distance (or even up close) but this does not help my truly understand their situation. If I want to really get the photos that can help me help them (and vice versa) then I honestly believe I would have to live with them in order to understand and truly empathize.

This is merely my opinion mind you.

Cheers,
Dave

Dear Dave,

"Live with" in what sense? You can't live under their roof: it's already overcrowded. You can however share their food (preferably when you're paying, though it's hard to refuse hospitality), their celebrations, their work.

In other words, you treat them as equals as far as you can. Once I was photographing Transylvanian haystacks. They're odd conical things, built around a sort of sapling, which is a bugger to get planted in the ground. I passed an old lady, an old widder-woman by the look of it, who was trying to get one planted. She had no-one to help. Except me. So I did.

I had a Land Rover and was 20-30 years younger than she. I still had a living partner. Oh: and a Leica. We weren't material equals. But I could still help her, as one human being to another.

Still in Transylvania, there was the 3-mile lift we gave, in the drizzle, at the fall of evening, to a goat-herd. It saved him an hour's walk. I was honoured when he insisted on giving me a kilo of fresh goat-cheese as a thank-you. In other words, he treated me as an equal, not as a benefactor ex machina.

And Newspaperguy is spot on. Objectivity is a joke. Either wer'e openly partisan -- as I am for Tibet or the success of the European Union -- or we stick with the mealy-mouthed pretension that we're telling 'both sides of the story' -- which we never do, except in the unlikely event that we don't give a toss about which side is in the right, in which case, why are we reporting it? I want the Chinese out of Tibet (and Uighurstan, and 60% of the land area claimed by the Chinese Empire). I want the EU to succeed. not least because both my grandfathers were killed at sea in WW2, one off Crete, one on the Russian convoys. And I look with some contempt upon those who have no passion for anything.

Cheers,

R.

Nikkor AIS
11-05-2010, 12:35
http://rogaltacdesign.smugmug.com/Other/Early-Work/Everything-Is-Important-Until/839379047_MP2yv-L.jpg (http://rogaltacdesign.smugmug.com/Other/Early-Work/11862178_etGoA#839379047_MP2yv-A-LB)

I don't share this guilt thing. I photograph "everyone" on the street. Always have. I'm supposed to feel guilty about that? Well sorry, I don't. Just because you take someone's photo doesn't mean you're exploiting them.

This idea that you have to live with them in order to be entitled to take their picture is also just plain silly.
However, that is something that I have done in the past. Not interested in doing that again. Those photos are as yet unpublished.

I'm not sure if photographing poverty can make a difference. But if they're on the street, they deserve respect like anyone else. To ignore them and only shoot the folks with money is clearly wrong.

If folks want to make a point that they "don't shoot the homeless," that's also fine. I just don't think you're taking the higher moral ground.

It's a good topic and I'm glad it's being discussed. If anyone want to do a project to help and wants/needs images/input, I'm more than happy to help.

The number of homeless on the Canadian streets has grown immeasurably in the last 20 years that I've been street shooting. Drug addiction, mental illness, lack of housing, lack of jobs, skill sets ... lack of caring.

Roger Hicks
11-05-2010, 12:37
Maybe the world progresses the way science does:

"Science advances one funeral at a time." -- Max Planck

The People's Flag is deepest red
It's sheltered oft our martyred dead
And as their limbs grew stiff and cold
Their martyrs' blood stained every fold

Note to Americans: in my 'teens I was really puzzled about why Americans play The Red Flag every Christmas. Then I learned that they think it's a Christmas carol called "O Tannenbaum" or "O Christmas Tree". Without agreeing with communism for a moment, it's hard not to identify with the following:

The People's Flag is deepest red
Stained with blood our fathers shed

Yes. Politics proceeds via the dialectic. The Communist Party sure as hell ain't right, but nor is the Tea Party either. It is only via those who are willing to make a stand, on either side, that ANYTHING is changed.

Cheers,

R

Chriscrawfordphoto
11-05-2010, 12:42
Photography of the poor can change the world. In the late 19th century a journalist in New York named Jacob Riis started a crusade against the slums of Manhattan. He wanted the city government to regulate the construction of apartment buildings and to force the demolition and replacement of thousands of buildings that featured tiny apartments crammed with huge numbers of poor immigrants whose crowded conditions spread disease and bred crime.

Riis, himself an immigrant who had suffered hunger and poverty after arriving in the USA, wrote articles for the newspapers he worked for. He eventually came to the conclusion that words alone could not portray the horrors of the slums, whose people he spent years working among. He took up photography and photographed the people in their homes, sweatshops, and saloons. He photographed young boys gambling in the streets, beggars, thieves, drug addicts, and hardworking people broken by poverty.

The pictures, when exhibited and published, scandalized the city and caused the middle class to demand that the city do something to help the previously invisible poor. Thousands of tenements were demolished and replaced with better housing and efforts were made to improve working conditions and get children into school.

Check out Riis' book, "How the Other Half Lives (http://www.authentichistory.com/1865-1897/progressive/riis/index.html)" He coined that phrase, which is often used in reference to the poor today. The link goes to the full text and the photos in the book. It was written with many of the prejudices of the time, so the text is often racist and antisemitic. As a Danish protestant, Riis looks down on Catholics and Jews while praising German immigrants. The pictures are the important thing though, they, not his writings, are what spurred reform.

Roger Hicks
11-05-2010, 12:56
Photography of the poor can change the world. In the late 19th century a journalist in New York named Jacob Riis started a crusade against the slums of Manhattan. He wanted the city government to regulate the construction of apartment buildings and to force the demolition and replacement of thousands of buildings that featured tiny apartments crammed with huge numbers of poor immigrants whose crowded conditions spread disease and bred crime.

Riis, himself an immigrant who had suffered hunger and poverty after arriving in the USA, wrote articles for the newspapers he worked for. He eventually came to the conclusion that words alone could not portray the horrors of the slums, whose people he spent years working among. He took up photography and photographed the people in their homes, sweatshops, and saloons. He photographed young boys gambling in the streets, beggars, thieves, drug addicts, and hardworking people broken by poverty.

The pictures, when exhibited and published, scandalized the city and caused the middle class to demand that the city do something to help the previously invisible poor. Thousands of tenements were demolished and replaced with better housing and efforts were made to improve working conditions and get children into school.

Check out Riis' book, "How the Other Half Lives (http://www.authentichistory.com/1865-1897/progressive/riis/index.html)" He coined that phrase, which is often used in reference to the poor today. The link goes to the full text and the photos in the book. It was written with many of the prejudices of the time, so the text is often racist and antisemitic. As a Danish protestant, Riis looks down on Catholics and Jews while praising German immigrants. The pictures are the important thing though, they, not his writings, are what spurred reform.

Dear Chris,

Funny, I'd say the exact opposite: that the writing had far more effect than the photography. But this may merely reflect that I am more of a writer, while you are more of a photographer.

Which of us is right does not affect the validity of your argument. SOMETHING changed the zeitgest, and even though Riis was only a tributary in a broad river, he was a major tributary. Anyone who denies that crusading jourmalism (written or photographed) can be important should, as you suggest, look at How The Other Half Lives.

Cheers,

R.

emraphoto
11-05-2010, 13:10
It's actually how the other 80% (or more) live these days.

cliffpov
11-05-2010, 13:32
I have photographed homeless folks, most with drug and/or alcohol dependence. The encounter usually goes something like this ---- Person asking me for a handout as I'm walking or riding a bicycle. I stop and visit, telling them I don't take my wallet with me as I'm just out enjoying the beautiful day on my bicycle or walk. Then we talk briefly about the day and the nice weather. I ask them how their day goes, if anyone has given them any money, how much, etc.. Somewhere in the conversation they ask about the camera I am carrying. I usually have a digital and film camera in my posession. I show them both and tell them I like to shoot both digital and film but prefer black and white film. I then ask them if they would like to view some of my photography from the digital camera and then show them the photo's from the digital camera. I don't let the camera out of my posession. Once they see the photo's I tell them that I have enjoyed visiting with them and would like to take a photo of them. Nearly all of them appreciate the time I have taken to talk with them and oblige by letting me take a photo of them. I always let them see the photo I took of them before I leave so they are comfortable I am not trying to humiliate or embarass them. I enjoy the conversations with them and don't feel either of us are the worse off for it.

Bob Michaels
11-05-2010, 13:39
Have you ever done it? Why? <snip>

First off: "poverty" is a very relative term. Have I photographed people who were in imminent danger of dying because of lack of calories in their dietary intake or other factors? The answer is no. Have I photographed people who were way down the economic scale on a comparative basis? The answer would be yes.

The "why" is a more complicated question. I do acknowledge that my primary motivation is not to effect some global social change to relieve some of their suffering. Honesty, I am just not that noble. It was to create interesting photos. Secondary motivation was to make the world community aware of their plight. I have reached that point where I do not try to B.S. myself.

I am always mindful that I have an economic safety net that I will eventually return to. I know that my personal financial resources are grossly insufficient to solve all their problems. At best I can provide temporary shelter for a very limited number. I am happy to do so.

I have great respect for those who have devoted their lives to social change at great personal sacrifice. I try to support them. But I am honest enough to admit that I am not one of them. I try to help to some extent. More importantly, I try to insure that I am not one of the contributing factors.

jan normandale
11-05-2010, 14:07
Then what does change the world? Apathy? Celebrity worship?

Cheers,

R.

"There but for good fortune go you or I."

I bag groceries at the local food bank and I contribute. I used to believe I wasn't my brother's keeper. Now I do.

emraphoto
11-05-2010, 14:22
"There but for good fortune go you or I."

I bag groceries at the local food bank and I contribute. I used to believe I wasn't my brother's keeper. Now I do.

Well said Jan

robklurfield
11-05-2010, 14:40
no one can ever really know exactly how anyone else feels (even among those closest to us). that doesn't mean that we should ever stop trying. after all, isn't that part of what being a member of humanity is all about? even living among those in poverty is not the same as being in poverty one's self if you still retain the option of walking away from it.

If I photograph something like poverty, any guilt I feel is more from my sense of shared responsibility for the world around because I'm human and almost never because I'm a photographer.

I feel no guilt over having made this image, but plenty of guilt about not being able to pick this guy up, dust him off and repair his broken life. That's the human in me, not the photographer.
http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2762/4132974306_63d06d4de8_z.jpg?zz=1

I guess one could stretch Heisenberg's uncertainty principle to say that the mere act of seeing this guy somehow altered something. (You can see that I'm no physicist.) Maybe that's true on a quantum mechanical level. I think showing others this image may have more impact that just casting my own gaze on him would by itself.

sojournerphoto
11-05-2010, 14:42
Then what does change the world? Apathy? Celebrity worship?

"Compassion fatigue" is (I suspect) a pernicious myth propagated by those in (undeserved) power who fear the loss of that power, and gratefully received by those who are looking for an excuse to do nothing.

Sure, we aren't all affected equally by all we see. We can look at as much as 90 per cent of it and think, "Yeah, well, nothing new there, the place was always a disaster area."

But then, there will be something we see, something we hear, something we understand, something that strikes a chord. Then we'll add our voices to the others crying in the wilderness. And the world does change. Otherwise there'd be no rule of law, no old age pensions, no concern for the weak, the sick, the infirm. And, come to think of it, the American colonies would still be colonies. Does ANYONE believe that if photography had existed in the 1770s, there'd not have been propaganda photographers on both sides?

And a pox on those who suggest that, perhaps, Americans have never been fit for self-government.

Cheers,

R.


I think I largely agree with you Roger, that compassion faticgue is a convenient excuse. However, I opened my ol duniversity magazine the other night to find 6 or 7 appeal inserts with it. All of them for worthy causes that I am sympathetic to and I thought how sad that there is so much need that we can not even help each of those who ask for money. This thought was also tinged with some cynicism at the 'professional' approach to fund raising - perhaps at its worse in the charity muggers who patrol the streets of the UK.

I do fear that all of this can reduce people's belief in their own power to help those actually around them. How often do we give to charity but deny the beggar on the street?

Mike

sojournerphoto
11-05-2010, 14:48
"There but for good fortune go you or I."

I bag groceries at the local food bank and I contribute. I used to believe I wasn't my brother's keeper. Now I do.


Well said, though we say, 'There but for the grace of God go we.' The thought is that without his active and undeserved kindness we all have no control over where we land.

Please don't draw me on this as to why some people are in poorer circumstances than others - I don't know (the rasons are often complex - the thought is around being humbly aware of our own vulnerability, which is an attitude I rarely see in my day to day working life in business.

I to think that we are our brother's keeper.

Mike

jordanstarr
11-05-2010, 15:06
...I've worked with the homeless in shelters for 4 years and spent the majority of my days with with them during this time. I have yet to even start considering a body of work that would capture what I understand as "homeless" or "poverty" and do it justice. So, I actually don't have a straight answer for you Roger.

But, I think the overarching topic here is being GENUINE about what you're photographing. The homeless and poverty stricken have been poked and prodded for years by photographers, journalists and researchers who just "want the goods and get the hell out of there" as quick as they can to their own selfish benefit and fame, which just makes the poor feel like a subject and not a human being.

Disingenuous photographs of vulnerable people is transparently pathetic. Not only that, but anyone who knows anything about photography can see through the BS.

wgerrard
11-05-2010, 15:17
Photographing the poor -- for the purpose of allowing others to see their poverty -- is reportage. (Or documentary photography, but often the difference is only in the packaging.) As such, it is subject to all the familiar issues centering around fairness and accuracy that reporters contend with.

Criticism of someone for photographing the poor after enjoying a nice lunch is obviously intended to induce guilt. I think that's unmerited as long as the photographer's purpose is to share that bit of our reality with others. On the other hand, I would have a problem with someone who approached a shantytown or a slum as a mere tourist attraction. (Years ago, I knew people who were indifferent to the politics of apartheid South Africa, but relished an opportunity to visit a township much as they would a chance to visit a zoo.)

wgerrard
11-05-2010, 15:22
... the morality of the artist is irrelevant to the value of the 'thing made'.

Indeed. And the immorality often inherent in the creation of poverty is very relevant.

RichL
11-05-2010, 15:44
" "Compassion fatigue" is (I suspect) a pernicious myth propagated by those in (undeserved) power who fear the loss of that power, and gratefully received by those who are looking for an excuse to do nothing."

Itís real. Roger

Three types of pictures / stories that I will pass right over: Big bellied (starving) children, slumsscapes and anything to do with the holocaust.

Itís sensory overload pure and simple like looking at one more oiled beach or crying kid with an empty ice cream cone and ice cream at her feet. I have a feeling that a large part of it is that I have been looking at the same pictures for 55+ years now. All the photographers, writers, governments and NGOís havenít changed a damn thing.

ďThen what does change the world? Apathy? Celebrity worship?Ē

I really donít believe anything will other than a truly world wide catastrophe such as a mile diameter asteroid deciding to make earth itís home.

I help my neighbors, homeless kids, stray animals and others withing my immediate reach and let the rest of the world take care of itself.

Rich L

wgerrard
11-05-2010, 15:49
Rich illustrates the reason behind the recent election results in the U.S.

Without ascribing this to him, many people lack the fortitude to actually care.

RichL
11-05-2010, 15:54
sojournerphoto "Well said, though we say, 'There but for...

Who's we? :-)

back alley
11-05-2010, 16:08
anyone here photograph birds?

anyone here live in a nest?

anyone here able to fly?

sig
11-05-2010, 16:19
Photographing poor people? Not intentionally, homeless never. Why? I do not want to 'document' people in a situation I would not like others to document me in. The street is their home and I do not want to invade it.

Some photographs might change some things, most not, mine not a damn thing.

robklurfield
11-05-2010, 16:21
interesting and valid point made with some humor. but, I think sometimes we humans are better at anthropomorphizing animals, especially pets (three dogs and a cat here), than we are at empathizing with members of our own species. there must be some sort of silly evolutionary survival value to that, but I'm not sure what it is.

by the way, I don't photograph birds (usually; and then, being an RF-only guy, only at a great distance); I don't live in a nest (my wife might beg to differ given the condition of my office, but let's not go there), and I don't fly often and never by flapping my appendages. I have been called bird-brained, but never accused of eating like a bird.

anyone here photograph birds?

anyone here live in a nest?

anyone here able to fly?

robklurfield
11-05-2010, 16:25
if no one photographed the poor and slums, then some people would have an easier time denying that such things exist. ditto the holocaust. sometimes people (not anyone in particular, but the whole race of us) ought to be forced to look at and confront the existence of such things and take some (minute share of) responsibility for the condition of the world (take that, you robber baron bankers awaiting million dollar bonuses).

mgd711
11-05-2010, 16:35
I'm reminded of the last season of HBO's The Wire. The Baltimore Sun decides to do a report on homelessness in the city, so a journalist for the paper hangs out around a few homeless people for a few hours and produces semi-fabricated melodramatic schmaltz about how he walked among the downtrodden. The paper executives, eager for a Pulitzer, are delighted with it while the other reporters see straight through it. Later on another reporter revisits the subject, focuses on one specific man (a predominant character in the show) and treats the subject with empathy and sensitivity. The report is unapologetic, has the facts, and gets to the heart of the matter. Unfortunately, it goes largely unappreciated.

I think the same can be applied to photography of the less fortunate in how we approach a subject.


I photograph poverty on a regular basis simply because itís the world outside my front door.
I live in a nice house, nothing too fancy but nice but in this street there are many poor houses and tin shacks with people squatting on the land.
I know these people, I talk to these people, I buy from there makeshift stalls and some off them are friends and have worked for me in the past.
The value of film in my fridge could keep a family for a year.

Does it bother me? Yes but this is the world these people live in and I'm unlikely to change it that much. I help my family, I keep my family safe and if the opportunity comes to help others (I never give to charity) I employ local people to do some odd job's round the place or help out on my father-in-laws farm, which happens to be 30kms from any road, way up in the mountains where there is no electricity or running water. There is hundreds of small farms in the area and again, I've eaten and drank with these people in there humble homes.

I guess it all depends on how you see yourself in relation to 'poorer' people. I see no difference other than I have money and they don't but often I find them happier...

Poverty in refugee camps though is a different matter...

NickTrop
11-05-2010, 17:52
Not a fan. Not a fan of this at all. If you're running around slums with your $7,000 M9 photographing people sleeping on grates and it's for your "hobby", I find it especially disgusting. If it's your profession, then you're helping to exploit the poor for the most part but if your boss sends you on assignment and that's what you're told to photograph then you go grin and bear it and go off and do it - which is what I'd probably do.

Pablito
11-05-2010, 18:08
anyone here photograph birds?

anyone here live in a nest?

anyone here able to fly?

How about locking up this thread and throwing out the key?

(it's even worse than the other one...)

Bob Michaels
11-05-2010, 18:14
Not a fan. Not a fan of this at all. If you're running around slums with your $7,000 M9 photographing people sleeping on grates and it's for your "hobby", I find it especially disgusting. If it's your profession, then you're helping to exploit the poor for the most part but if your boss sends you on assignment and that's what you're told to photograph then you go grin and bear it and go off and do it - which is what I'd probably do.

Nick: I can agree with your problems about photographing poverty stricken people because they are poverty stricken. Hopefully most of us here have moved beyond that point.

But, conversely it is very important not to exclude people simply because they are poverty stricken. There are a multitude of reasons to photograph. If there is a reason , we should not exclude the poor. That is discriminatory.

emraphoto
11-05-2010, 18:18
Not a fan. Not a fan of this at all. If you're running around slums with your $7,000 M9 photographing people sleeping on grates and it's for your "hobby", I find it especially disgusting. If it's your profession, then you're helping to exploit the poor for the most part but if your boss sends you on assignment and that's what you're told to photograph then you go grin and bear it and go off and do it - which is what I'd probably do.

Once again you have it all packaged up in little packages for us Nick. 'Exploit the poor' is based on a serious lack of understanding in relation to ones motivations.

It's refreshing to know I have at least two (motivations) to choose from.

jan normandale
11-05-2010, 18:31
anyone here photograph birds?

anyone here live in a nest?

anyone here able to fly?

Joe, I'm in a landscape mode these days.. ornithology is on a back burner.

I do live in a "nest" others might describe it as a jumble

I always wanted to fly Joe. Didn't you? ;D

mgd711
11-05-2010, 18:41
http://www.thefieryscotsman.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/GF670_Neo400_Rod-1-25_416.jpg


http://www.thefieryscotsman.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/GF670_Neo400_HC110-rod_107.jpg


http://www.thefieryscotsman.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/Vulcans.jpg

israel_alanis
11-05-2010, 19:14
Hello RFFīs friends, I read this post and it has attracted much attention. First answering the original question. Yes I have taken photographs of poverty, my justification are expressions. I have more than 5 thousand photos of pure expressions from all over the country (Mexico). I think that if I helped or I currently helping the poor is worth comment, because I think that everyone on this forum have helped someone. But I worked hard against poverty and not only that, but also with people with disabilities, my father is one of those people.

A few months ago I made a thread about having problems with people, a lady threw me pee, and a man verbally abused me, they were homeless people, if my photos are not for a Nobel may be because I'm not so good photographer , but I'm trying to be the best I can. But the expressions of the people I feel very strong in me, either happiness or sadness, a good friend of this forum recommended me not to share these pictures, because it could be interpreted as wanting to take advantage of the bad situation of people to want to get a picture, but believe me not.

The reasons of each should be respected, this is a theoretically free world, but I think the photography is that, photography, and his duty is to capture all kinds of picture to have a record of history, We do not need a Ghandi scene to say: Ok this is important, his hungry and silence must be capture in video or photography. All are important. and all deserve respect, of course.

On whether the photograph change the world I think this is true, Ghandi with his finger on his mouth saying: "Silence" made people want to follow his example and change fight to talk or respect. one song, as Imagine by John Lennon, its enough to make the world a lot of people try not to fight and wants world peace, unfortunately we are many in a state, much in a country and not know how in the world, that is why all artistic representations in favor of peace, seeking all the ways to achieve peace, but it is a difficult job.

One photograph change many people, but we are a lot for change entire world with one pic, so, lets take a lot.

The photo must capture all, in my humble opinion, and I agree with those who say that if the photo is used to make fun of someone unfortunate, I also firmly reject it.

Greetings.

bigeye
11-05-2010, 19:15
...the morality of the artist is irrelevant to the value of the 'thing made'. In other words an evil carpenter can make a beautiful and fully functional chair. So each of us -- particularly if we are from the Western developed economies -- has to come to terms with the destruction and the deprivation on which virtually ALL of our prosperity lies. Each of us is implicated whether we take pictures or not. But this has no affect on the value of the photography or, in my case, writing that we might do. Here, the standards are as they have forever been: the infinite possibilities for beauty, authority, and power when we manage to serve the requirements of form and the requirements of truth.

Firm, but faulty - it's an individual call but I don't accept for myself that "my works can justify my bad actions" or that I am responsible for others suffering. Others certainly do and might.

I spent about a month in Haiti after the quake and saw the spectrum, flying food, Drs and meds around out of PaP, which was the nexus of (early) logistics, hospital care, UN force, 82nd Airborne, Haitian government, and anyone entering or leaving.

Blundering minor US politicians (what are you doing here?), big photo and network people flew in, got in the way for a couple hours and took off before tea. There were no hotel bars left standing and the stocked G-V was already flight-planned back to Miami. See Yaaah!

Their pics and stories ran for 2 weeks w/o much update, but that was all the product that the market needed. Awareness and billions in aid were raised. Success - they did their job. (Must say that we did feel a bit of self-righteous scorn for them.)

There were some volunteers, photographing everything, who did little to nothing else and were labelled "DTs," or disaster tourists. There to gather stories for the other ex-pats on Montparnasse? I don't know (just, please, step over there).

In contrast, the doctors and nurses at the Univ. of Miami hospital at the airport never saw Haiti; they walked off the NASCAR-team donated aircraft and into the operating tent for a week or two, worked to exhaustion, then back onto the plane. Heroic. They inspired everyone to lend a hand at any task and work as hard as they could. (I now want my kids to be doctors.)

But, I came to the conclusion that all I had to do was help 1 person and the effort would be worth it. Any more is gravy. It's an effort of individuals. (We had fun making action poses in the yard where we slept.) - Charlie

Nikon Bob
11-05-2010, 19:31
Photographing poor people? Not intentionally, homeless never. Why? I do not want to 'document' people in a situation I would not like others to document me in. The street is their home and I do not want to invade it.

Some photographs might change some things, most not, mine not a damn thing.

Well, that pretty much sums up why I don't. Others feel different about it and that is obviously fine too.

Bob

sig
11-05-2010, 19:56
anyone here photograph birds?

anyone here live in a nest?

anyone here able to fly?

There are some differences between birds and people, e.g. birds are not people. But I agree that there is no way you can expect that only poor photographers with cheap cameras can photograph poverty.....

An easy solution is of course to get a degree in photography and move to Indiana, you will be poor, struggle and be allowed to photograph poverty.

It is a bit 'don't kick somebody who is down' discussion. Kicking up (e.g. Bill Gates,) is good and fun, kicking down not so gracious

And sorry for kicking down on art graduates in Indiana

robklurfield
11-05-2010, 20:11
should poor people also avoid photographing the well-to-do? at what point does the slope become slippery?

sparrow6224
11-05-2010, 20:28
I just saw my note copied for reply / remarks and -- horror -- I wrote (typed!) "affect" instead of "effect."
Anyway this notion I put forward -- that the morality of art lies entirely in the qualities of 'the thing made' and not with the motives or moral standing or behavior of the artist -- comes from St. Thomas Aquinas. He defined art thus: "Ars recta ratio factibilium est." Art is the undeviating determination of work to be done.

In the US, where art is largely used decoratively or as a mild social stimulant, it is almost universally believed that art is good for people, that its aim is to make us better and our society better. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's often quite hostile and disturbing and destructive at heart, and often the most committed artists are monsters personally. All we know in the end is that we need it. The photograph has given us a way to stop time, and the best photographers have taught us, through this miraculous framed event, how really to see. This might not be helpful to us; it might frighten us and give us bad dreams. But we need it. And we seek it out. So the question isn't how we feel about taking pictures of the poor -- the writer Flannery O'Connor when asked why she always wrote about the poor replied simply, "As far as I am concerned, we are all The Poor" -- the question is how we feel looking at the pictures. Manipulated? Then it's a bad picture. Stricken? Or elated? Or confused? Then, possibly, it's a good one.

sparrow6224
11-05-2010, 20:31
Mike the Fiery Scotsman:
Very fine photographs. I love their warmth and their clarity.

robklurfield
11-05-2010, 20:34
Sparrow6224,
You're right on target as far as I'm concerned. Isn't one of the possible roles and/or duties of art to provoke the viewer into thinking?

Impressed by the way that you managed to work Aquinas (in Latin, no less), O'Connor and Beckett all into less than ten lines of text. A cool parlor trick to say the least.:DWhat does one do for an encore after that? I'll be following this space to see.

I just saw my note copied for reply / remarks and -- horror -- I wrote (typed!) "affect" instead of "effect."
Anyway this notion I put forward -- that the morality of art lies entirely in the qualities of 'the thing made' and not with the motives or moral standing or behavior of the artist -- comes from St. Thomas Aquinas. He defined art thus: "Ars recta ratio factibilium est." Art is the undeviating determination of work to be done.

In the US, where art is largely used decoratively or as a mild social stimulant, it is almost universally believed that art is good for people, that its aim is to make us better and our society better. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's often quite hostile and disturbing and destructive at heart, and often the most committed artists are monsters personally. All we know in the end is that we need it. The photograph has given us a way to stop time, and the best photographers have taught us, through this miraculous framed event, how really to see. This might not be helpful to us; it might frighten us and give us bad dreams. But we need it. And we seek it out. So the question isn't how we feel about taking pictures of the poor -- the writer Flannery O'Connor when asked why she always wrote about the poor replied simply, "As far as I am concerned, we are all The Poor" -- the question is how we feel looking at the pictures. Manipulated? Then it's a bad picture. Stricken? Or elated? Or confused? Then, possibly, it's a good one.

israel_alanis
11-05-2010, 20:37
Roger your street photography China is fantastic.
Regards.

Keith
11-05-2010, 20:46
As long as it's not with a Leica ... the Leica was never intended for this purpose! :angel:

mgd711
11-05-2010, 21:09
I just saw my note copied for reply / remarks and -- horror -- I wrote (typed!) "affect" instead of "effect."
Anyway this notion I put forward -- that the morality of art lies entirely in the qualities of 'the thing made' and not with the motives or moral standing or behavior of the artist -- comes from St. Thomas Aquinas. He defined art thus: "Ars recta ratio factibilium est." Art is the undeviating determination of work to be done.

In the US, where art is largely used decoratively or as a mild social stimulant, it is almost universally believed that art is good for people, that its aim is to make us better and our society better. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's often quite hostile and disturbing and destructive at heart, and often the most committed artists are monsters personally. All we know in the end is that we need it. The photograph has given us a way to stop time, and the best photographers have taught us, through this miraculous framed event, how really to see. This might not be helpful to us; it might frighten us and give us bad dreams. But we need it. And we seek it out. So the question isn't how we feel about taking pictures of the poor -- the writer Flannery O'Connor when asked why she always wrote about the poor replied simply, "As far as I am concerned, we are all The Poor" -- the question is how we feel looking at the pictures. Manipulated? Then it's a bad picture. Stricken? Or elated? Or confused? Then, possibly, it's a good one.



Fantastic! very well quoted and exactly to the point :)

Chriscrawfordphoto
11-05-2010, 21:17
There are some differences between birds and people, e.g. birds are not people. But I agree that there is no way you can expect that only poor photographers with cheap cameras can photograph poverty.....

An easy solution is of course to get a degree in photography and move to Indiana, you will be poor, struggle and be allowed to photograph poverty.

It is a bit 'don't kick somebody who is down' discussion. Kicking up (e.g. Bill Gates,) is good and fun, kicking down not so gracious

And sorry for kicking down on art graduates in Indiana

Actually, its really hard to photograph poverty here. Homeless people are nonexistant because the police find excuses to lock up anyone seen on the streets who looks homeless, so most of them are in jail almost continuously. I can count on one hand the number of homeless I have seen on the streets of Fort Wayne in my 35 yrs. This is a city of 250,000 people and it is not a wealthy city or a compassionate one, so the lack of homeless is un-natural.

We do have neighborhoods where the people are very poor but not homeless. You can't photograph there, the people will kill you and steal your gear within minutes of you showing up. The southeast side of the city averages a shooting every day and a murder every week. Drugs are sold openly on the streets while the police ignore it. Too busy protecting the city from the homeless....

sig
11-05-2010, 21:30
I just saw my note copied for reply / remarks and -- horror -- I wrote (typed!) "affect" instead of "effect."
Anyway this notion I put forward -- that the morality of art lies entirely in the qualities of 'the thing made' and not with the motives or moral standing or behavior of the artist -- comes from St. Thomas Aquinas. He defined art thus: "Ars recta ratio factibilium est." Art is the undeviating determination of work to be done.

In the US, where art is largely used decoratively or as a mild social stimulant, it is almost universally believed that art is good for people, that its aim is to make us better and our society better. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's often quite hostile and disturbing and destructive at heart, and often the most committed artists are monsters personally. All we know in the end is that we need it. The photograph has given us a way to stop time, and the best photographers have taught us, through this miraculous framed event, how really to see. This might not be helpful to us; it might frighten us and give us bad dreams. But we need it. And we seek it out. So the question isn't how we feel about taking pictures of the poor -- the writer Flannery O'Connor when asked why she always wrote about the poor replied simply, "As far as I am concerned, we are all The Poor" -- the question is how we feel looking at the pictures. Manipulated? Then it's a bad picture. Stricken? Or elated? Or confused? Then, possibly, it's a good one.

Hopefully somebody will also ask how the poor in the photo feel about it. Not that it is important.

Roger Hicks
11-06-2010, 02:23
Hopefully somebody will also ask how the poor in the photo feel about it. Not that it is important.

Well, that was a part of what prompted the original question. I do not think I have often photographed people living in desperate poverty (not knowing where their next meal is coming from) but the very poor Tibetans I photographed in the 80s were pleased that their cause was being publicized; and, as I say, some became real friends.

After that, a lot comes down to what you regard as 'poverty'. I didn't really regard the old lady whom I helped with the haystack as living in 'poverty', and I don't think she did either. Poor, yes, poverty-stricken, no. The same was true in China -- thanks for the kind words, Israel.

I completely agree about 'disaster tourism', which is one reason why I don't photograph the very poor unless I am reasonably confident that my pictures may help them in some way. But people going about their daily life on the street, well, I'll treat the (reasonably) poor no differently than the (reasonably) rich.

Some of the negative reactions on this thread puzzle me, like the person who wanted it locked and the key thrown away. Some people seem VERY afraid of thinking about anything. So far, though, most of the reactions have been thoughtful and interesting, even if a few have been predictable and simplistic. I was particularly interested in the split between 'giving to charity but not to beggars/local poor' and 'giving to beggars/local poor but not to charity': I defnitely lean toward the latter, without necessarily excluding charities. I'm not sorry I started the thread.

Cheers,

R.

Bob Michaels
11-06-2010, 05:14
Am I photographing poverty? This family in Banao Cuba live in a house with no running water, and really struggle for enough calories to sustain themselves. I believe the photo would not have the same impact if shot in a typical suburban American neighborhood. This photo project has no lofty noble goal, only to show what ordinary Cuban people are like.

The girls were happier with the empty 35mm film canister I gave them to play with than any of my grandkids getting a new i-phone.

http://bobmichaels.org/cuba%20photos/slides/young-girls-in-water-pan-Ba.jpg

gilpen123
11-06-2010, 06:05
Documentary very sad indeed.

http://gilpen.smugmug.com/Photography/Film/Homeless/704007715_QcMUC-L.jpg (http://gilpen.smugmug.com/Photography/Film/10179466_kbDL3#704007715_QcMUC-A-LB)

http://gilpen.smugmug.com/Photography/Film/Lunta010/895298248_2r58H-L.jpg (http://gilpen.smugmug.com/Photography/Film/10179466_kbDL3#895298248_2r58H-A-LB)

helenhill
11-06-2010, 06:16
here in NYC it seems the Great Divide is getting BIGGER by the moment.... Frustrating & Heartbreaking to see
I am presently doing a body of Work on the Homeless
and try and help in my small way / a few dollars, hot meal , hook them up w' shelters and a just the Good common sense of Listening and Talking w/ those in Need ....http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3383/4632997811_7475371d08_b.jpg">

Roger Hicks
11-06-2010, 06:17
Am I photographing poverty? This family in Banao Cuba live in a house with no running water, and really struggle for enough calories to sustain themselves. I believe the photo would not have the same impact if shot in a typical suburban American neighborhood. This photo project has no lofty noble goal, only to show what ordinary Cuban people are like.

The girls were happier with the empty 35mm film canister I gave them to play with than any of my grandkids getting a new i-phone.


This is one of the fundamental points, which you have well clarified, at least in my mind. As soon as you are engaged with the people you are photographing, it's no longer 'disaster tourism' (or 'poverty tourism'). Why was I in Dharamsala? I'd proposed a book on Tibetan iconography; been asked if I coud do a biography of HH Dalai Lama, to which he assented; and then was asked by the Government in Exile to do a propaganda book, to which I gladly assented. That led in due course to a weakness for India in general. The main reason I went to China when I had the opportunity, on the other hand, was because of the advice of HH Dalai Lama: visit somewhere before you form an opinion. And wherever I am, I take pictures...

Cheers,

R.

helenhill
11-06-2010, 06:20
what astounds me is How many People just pass them by with little or No Concern....http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2766/4349485251_fd37de5662_b.jpg (http://www.rangefinderforum.com/forums/%3Ca%20href=)">

ebino
11-06-2010, 06:29
Helen, is that same individual in both of your photos? it seems they both are wearing the same shoes.

edit: sorry, i don't think its the same pair of shoes.

israel_alanis
11-06-2010, 06:31
what astounds me is How many People just pass them by with little or No Concern....">

That is my point.

I think the morality of photography is very difficult to justify, if we talk of morality we never finished talking about that.

Photojournalism has the obligation to report, I guess that's the justification that it has.

But if the photography of the bad events should be banned I guess that's a bad point of discussion.

Some people may not want to see these pictures because it hurts (so I understand) but may be also because they think no one can help these people, not themselves.

The reaction when I saw this kind of people, or on street of my city, is try to help the way I can, and we know that when we talk about help, too much never gonna be enough.

ebino
11-06-2010, 06:36
Once I saw a man, with a huge SLR and lens, sitting in front of a homeless man on the sidewalk with a female which could have been his wife. He was shooting from the hip, sitting right infront of the guy! it seemed to me either he was showing off to his female company or passerbys or whatever, but i felt like going to him and giving him a nice lecture on how by sitting in front of the guy, it does not make him homeless and he must have the courage to lift the camera to his eye while sitting face-to-face with the poor homeless guy.

anyway, sometimes street photographers start thinking as if the own the street so i don't wanna fall into that trap, and rightly i ignored the charade and just walked away.

Rayt
11-06-2010, 06:46
I did some pro bono work in my younger days representing people who couldn't afford a lawyer. My clients were usually immigrants but one day I walked up to the Homeless Advocacy Group and took a few cases. I sometimes delivered donated food and got to know a few people in the streets so I thought why not? It was Haight Asbury in the age of Jefferson Starship.

Basically I helped my homeless clients get their Social Security payments. You don't need to be a legal genius to do that. They get denied and you help them get their money. Honestly that was the worse gig of my life. I tried to get them to manage their money and not blow it on junk; I tried to get them into counseling; I tried to get them jobs; I tried very hard not to give them money out of my own pocket. I don't believe have ever photographed any of them but am sure having such close contacts would not have helped.

paulfish4570
11-06-2010, 06:48
People can be poor in so many ways: poor in spirit, poor in material goods, poor in intellectual acuity, poor in health (mental and/or physical), poor in all of these things at once, poor in circumstances because they are lazy, poor in circumstances because of addictions, and poor in circumstances because of both.
Jesus of Nazereth said the poor always will be with us. That does not mean ignore the poor. It does mean the challenge to care always will be with us ...

israel_alanis
11-06-2010, 06:50
People can be poor in so many ways: poor in spirit, poor in material goods, poor in intellectual acuity, poor in health (mental and/or physical), poor in all of these things at once, poor in circumstances because they are lazy, poor in circumstances because of addictions, and poor in circumstances because of both.
Jesus of Nazereth said the poor always will be with us. That does not mean ignore the poor. It does mean the challenge to care always will be with us ...

I Agree

Regards

gb hill
11-06-2010, 07:51
People can be poor in so many ways: poor in spirit, poor in material goods, poor in intellectual acuity, poor in health (mental and/or physical), poor in all of these things at once, poor in circumstances because they are lazy, poor in circumstances because of addictions, and poor in circumstances because of both.
Jesus of Nazereth said the poor always will be with us. That does not mean ignore the poor. It does mean the challenge to care always will be with us ...

Excellent point Paul. What about a few of the women photographed by Frank Petrino. Does one look at them as sexual objects or is one able to veer past the nudity to see a young girl thats been led astray down a path of misuse & drug addiction? Why is it that it is so wrong to take a photograph of the homeless but ok to see a young girl strung out on dope as long as she has no clothes on? (this is not meant as a rip on Frank's work just trying to make a point here)

emraphoto
11-06-2010, 08:07
Misuse and drug addiction? How did we arrive at that? Do you know any of them?

robklurfield
11-06-2010, 08:11
Good points Paul & GB.

Perhaps the thing that puts the work of Frank and others -- Bob Michaels comes to mind here -- is their willingness and great effort to understand, interact and empathize with their subjects. Bob has talked about how almost always engages his street photography subjects in conversations where he gets to know them.

Frank, of course, has a modeling relationship with these girls (and this is certainly not street photography, reportage or PJ). He gives them something (travel expenses, prints for portfolios, visibility, etc.) and they give him their time and openness.

In any case, what makes these images work so well (for me anyway) the way they do is that people like Frank and Bob treat their subjects with great respect and grant them tremendous dignity in doing so. It becomes an exchange -- really a two-way street. I have the utmost respect and admiration for that manner of working and while I aspire to behave in that way, I honestly can't admit to having been able to live up to that standard in my own style of shooting (especially what I do on the street).

Anyone can learn to point a camera and make a nice exposure and even a decent composition. The interaction between subject and shooter in this kind of photography is at least part of what separates art from crap and exploitation.

In Frank's case, there is a tremendous amount of depth to the images that captures something about these women's stories, emotions, beauty, striving, etc. I don't ever have the sense in a Frank Petronio image of a subject being purely sexualized or objectified. The images are intimate and penetrating, baring far more than flesh. I think that back story to many of Frank's models is that they are questing to get better lives. In Bob's case, it's really all about these peoples' stories and granting them dignity (and also, putting the stories and the people into a meaning context). I don't ever have the sense in a Bob Michael's photograph of a subject being exploited for sensationalism or anything else. These images ask and begin to answer how their subjects arrived at where they are.

I don't mean to single Frank or Bob out here to the exclusion of any of the other great artists whose work I've enjoyed on RFF. I'm just pointing to these two because I've come to know them and their methods a little by having the good fortune to interact with them on the site. I really appreciate the generosity of spirit of an awful lot of people here who share ideas and techniques. These two are not the only ones.

Excellent point Paul. What about a few of the women photographed by Frank Petrino. Does one look at them as sexual objects or is one able to veer past the nudity to see a young girl thats been led astray down a path of misuse & drug addiction? Why is it that it is so wrong to take a photograph of the homeless but ok to see a young girl strung out on dope as long as she has no clothes on? (this is not meant as a rip on Frank's work just trying to make a point here)

antiquark
11-06-2010, 08:23
Regarding the "compassion fatigue" that a few posters mentioned earlier...

I think it's real. If you give, say, $100 for some disaster, and a similar disaster happens a week later, you're far less likely to give again. The charitable agencies have noticed that pattern, so it's a fact.

I find a simple workaround to compassion fatigue is to give a small amount as part of a monthly subscription. With the Red Cross for example, you can give as little as $5 per month, automatically charged to your credit card.

Charities actually prefer monthly payments to lump donations. They're easier to budget with, and more reliable. Once people start donating, they're less likely to stop (due to the "out of sight out of mind" effect of a minor credit card payment.)

gb hill
11-06-2010, 08:27
Misuse and drug addiction? How did we arrive at that? Do you know any of them?
No! I don't know any of them, just going by what I have read what Frank said about a few of the girls he has gotten to know. Rob summed up my point very nicely! I was afraid I wouldn't get my point across but Rob understood. All I was wishing to point out like Paul stated above is that poverty is not restricted to just living conditions alone. I believe many of the rich & famous live impovershed lives, Just look at Charlie Sheen's wasted life right now. Sure he's got millions in the bank but his drunkeness as of late shows he is a very unhappy person. I guess we see poverty in a different manor!

Turtle
11-06-2010, 08:32
I think CC and emraphoto have very good examples of where photography of those in unfortunate situations can change events by bringing things to the attention of a wider audience. I think those that argue against this tote an argument along the following lines:


I still see poor people and wars.
Therefore nothing has changed
Therefore photography of this kind contributes nothing
Therefore it is exploitative because the victims as not benefiting and so it is not right that the photographer 'gets something' from it. Like a living.


I think this argument is flawed from start to finish. My counter argument would go something like this:


Poverty is still with us. Of course it is and it always will be. did anyone seriously expect the eradication of these things?
There are very clear examples of where photography and other forms of reporting have forced change. I can think of one in Afghanistan at one of the sites I have photographed for years where documentaries embarrassed the govt of Afghanistan so they put hundreds of drug addicts through rehab programs and improved foreign donations to rehab programs (but there is still more to be done). There must be thousands more examples. It does contribute to the debates that sometimes bring change.
There is this assumption that in all cases the 'victims' benefit nothing. In many cases print and image sales lead directly to charitable contributions. They are also used for fundraising. This does improve lives because I have seen it with my own eyes on a daily basis. Many photographic subjects are glad to have a voice and be listened to. They are glad someone gives a damn. You might ridicule this but it does seem to matter to people.... many photographers actually do contribute directly by giving food, water, money etc where appropriate, or by directly helping (like getting medical assistance)... and indirectly by hiring people in the local economy to drive them, interpret, fix for them etc
If the status quo is maintained even with documentary photography, has anyone asked what would happen if coverage stopped tomorrow. What evil and selfish acts WOULD be perpetrated on an increasing basis because the eye of the camera need not be feared. I would argue that the status quo is partly a product of the positive contribution of documentary work, whether visual or literary. Remove that counterbalance and duck for cover!


Some other issues:


If its OK to photograph these issues when a pro, because thats serious and a 'real cause' then how to non-pros develop the skills needed to do such issues justice. They have to start somewhere.
Poverty is every bit as much of the human condition as wealth and everything in between. You will not improve anything by hiding it 'out of respect.' IMHO thats quite patronising to those so affected because it is one step away from treating everyone with equal respect. It reinforces a lesser status somehow and for those who harp on about not photographing poverty, I suspect very few actively engage the people they claim to be protecting and do something to improve their situation.


I fundamentally believe that to be a better human being you have to understand things. You have to truly understand to be able to empathise otherwise it is just a cheap empty gesture without substance. Our understanding alters our ethical perspective and stance, which alters our politics, which alters our policies. It is impossible to begin to understand anything beyond your own personal experiences without some form of reporting. We are not born into this world with an inherent understanding of the planet and everything in it. We learn and some of the critics here perhaps take their own understanding for granted; an understanding which is a product of the very things they now condemn.

robklurfield
11-06-2010, 08:41
I do know, from having corresponded with Frank a little bit, that some of these young ladies indeed do come from difficult backgrounds and many of them do have tough stories to tell. As to drugs and whatnot, you'd have to ask Frank himself. I suspect that the fact these women are working with Frank often suggestions that they are on an upward trend in their lives from whatever troubles might be in their pasts. He can tell you more. I do know from what he says that most of them have ambition. Drugs and other abuses that life deals out generally don't discriminate on the basis of socio-economics, so I suppose that these gals are just as susceptible to those problems as anyone else. I do know that abuses of that sort do prey more easily on the weak and disadvantaged, but as Paul rightly observed, poverty can exist quite apart from moneyed wealth in the form of impoverished souls.

If you really want to know more about these ladies, do write to Frank, as I've always found him to be quite willing to share on topics ranging far and wide from mere technique and gear talk (though, he's really great about that). Also, Frank has a tremendous sense of humor.

Quote:
Originally Posted by emraphoto http://www.rangefinderforum.com/forums/themes/graphite/buttons/viewpost.gif (http://www.rangefinderforum.com/forums/showthread.php?p=1462572#post1462572)
Misuse and drug addiction? How did we arrive at that? Do you know any of them?

No! I don't know any of them, just going by what I have read what Frank said about a few of the girls he has gotten to know. Rob summed up my point very nicely! I was afraid I wouldn't get my point across but Rob understood. All I was wishing to point out like Paul stated above is that poverty is not restricted to just living conditions alone. I believe many of the rich & famous live impovershed lives, Just look at Charlie Sheen's wasted life right now. Sure he's got millions in the bank but his drunkeness as of late shows he is a very unhappy person. I guess we see poverty in a different manor!
__________________
Greg
flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/gbhill59/)

NickTrop
11-06-2010, 08:46
Know what else? Golden Rule. That's what it comes down to... "Do unto others..." right? If you were in such a state, health issues, starving, psychological issues, perhaps substance abuse issues... that you've fallen so far as you're living on the streets, sleeping on a grate - often in your own urine, on a busy city street... Would you want some wuss with a camera taking your picture, posting it on RFF or Flickr for their pals to comment on, evaluate - what have you?

I'll answer for you. No. No, you wouldn't. Which is why I'll never do it, and why you shouldn't do it. Golden rule - as corny as that sounds. And you shoot the homeless, often, for the same reason you shoot statues and mannequins. You're a coward. And your homeless pics are about as interesting as your statue and mannequin pictures. Worse than being a sh--ty photographer - amateur or otherwise, you have no humanity or soul.

FrankS
11-06-2010, 08:49
That doesn't sound corny to me, Nick. You give a good reason for your stance.

robklurfield
11-06-2010, 08:51
Nick, the human race contains people with all levels of moral awareness and action. Cameras and pictures aren't the problem. They're just tools, symbols and symptoms. Photography does have the possibility of making people confront hard facts that they would otherwise wish to avoid. Does that mean that it's never exploitative and that it always confers some positive moral value? No, of course, not. But, it also doesn't mean that it never does. The camera (even, an expensive, and, if you like, crass object of conspicuous consumption, such an M9, doesn't really have a inherent moral dimension. The moral, ethic value derives from the user and the viewer. There's nothing inherent in the act of making or viewing an image that carries moral weight. The value comes in how the image was made, the interaction of the maker with his/her subjects and the reaction (or sometimes, lack thereof) by the audience. Taking pictures of bodies stacked like cord wood outside of liberated concentration camps at the end of WWII was merely reportage. It did, for many people I hope, have the impact of startling and disgusting them to realize what one group of humans had committed on another. That's important. Not looking away and confronting what we're capable of as species is also important. Did those images help sell magazines or newspapers? Probably. Is that wrong? I don't think so. The message was too important not to be delivered. And, I think it's important for we humans to always be reminding each other of these things so they can be avoided in the future. Anyway, I do fully respect your opinion and I don't think it's wrong. It's just simply not the whole story. And, I'll defend your right to share it even when I don't fully agree with it.

FrankS
11-06-2010, 09:00
Two points:
a) the interaction with the subject - If you spend some time talking with the subject, that provides them with a bit of human dignity, the knowledge that they are not invisible.

b) the audience of the image - If you intend to show the image to others upon whom it may have an effect, then there is some purpose to it beyond collecting in a pile of keepers just for the photographer's own pleasure.

robklurfield
11-06-2010, 09:02
Nick, I'll agree with FrankS that you've made a strong case here. But, I don't think it's the only case one can make.

My image early in this thread, for example, of the fellow laying in the street with someone stepping around him as if he were a pile of garbage might have an element of exploitation to it. I can't say I feel good about having not picked up and taken him home to repair all that ailed him. On the other hand, the image has power for me because it documented a time during Reagan's first term when the number of indigent and homeless on NYC's streets was exploding. I thought it important to document the utter heartlessness of the times. I think a lot of people didn't realize what our politics and policies were doing to real people. Without a visual record of that, people might be able to deny it was happening or justify by somehow saying the sufferers were getting what they deserved for not having jobs or whatever. I think we all owe our fellow humans something and taking and preserving that image was one of the ways I was able to record my thoughts and kind of protest against the whole trend towards ignoring our responsibilities. I fear that this country is tilting very serious back in that direction and think the photo, apart from whatever artist merits it probably lacks, still has something to say about our culture and our times.

How do I deal with the guilt at having not been able to fix that man's troubles? For one, I probably don't do enough of what I ought to, of what I preach here. On the other hand, I can volunteer (and ought to do more of it) at a local soup kitchen to help other folks not end up unconscious and starved on a corner. I know I can't fix everyone, but there's not a reason under the sun to prevent me from starting somewhere. The morals of this, in other words, go far beyond the single act of making an image. They really bear on how we conduct our whole lives. I'm not defending myself here, as I know in my own heart that I ought to do more. I'm just pointing out that making a picture isn't the whole story.

Like I said earlier, though, I very much respect your viewpoint and think it's good that your point of view makes me challenge and question my own thinking and acting. None of us should go through life without having our fundamental philosophic assumptions challenged on a regular basis.

robklurfield
11-06-2010, 09:21
I have the conundrum when confronted with panhandlers of deciding whether I'm enabling their worst, most destructive habits by giving them money or whether I'm actually helping them. I usually lean toward the former. The good thing about something like a soup kitchen, is when I serve people there, I never have any doubt that I'm doing a good thing. I can see the food making their lives better and the appreciation they give for the help (mixed, as one might expect, with a very high level of shame; no one really wants to need that kind of help). I always hate the thought that I'm giving someone money that they'll use to make their situation worse.

Many years ago, however, a down-on-his-luck fellow confronted me in the middle of Sixth Avenue in downtown Manhattan on a New Year's Eve, asking, "Can you spare five bucks for a bottle of wine?" Feeling generous and appreciating his creative and, I have to admit, humorous pitch, I gave him something, though probably not the five he asked for, but not before saying, "You know, you can't get a decent bottle of wine in this town for five bucks anymore." I did not take his picture.

I had a friend who gave the same panhandler the same donation every day for months. Then, one day, my friend asked the panhandler for essentially the same amount as his daily donation and the panhandler quite graciously handed over a donation of his own. Broadway and West 10th Street in the 1980's. Moral transactions can go bi-directional.

Turtle
11-06-2010, 09:46
Nick,

Thats an understandable response, but what makes you so sure you speak for everyone who is actually in that position? My experiences have shown me that your response is rarely theirs. Have you had these experiences yourself or are you making assumptions and prepared top cast powerful judgments from a position of ignorance? I do find it quite worrying when others are prepared to so emphatically state what other people 'would want' after searching only their own hearts.

Perhaps you should break your own golden rule but only in part. perhaps you should go out and engage people without a camera. Talk to them and see how they respond. After all, this is what some photojournalists do, only the photos are the final component of a much more comprehensive and respectful interaction.

I would agree that taking 'cool pics' of poor people is in bad taste, but I do not agree that taking photos of poor people is always in bad taste. You imply that it is and there is a huge difference. The latter leads to the 'lets ban it' mentality and the former accepts that liberties will always be abused by some, but the preservation of those liberties is fundamentally much more important (otherwise we would prevent freedom of speech on the basis that some say horrendously harmful things and are protected by the law). It does seem that you are taking a very superficial emotional view on something with very wide ramifications. You seem to be looking no further than your own personal repugnance. Its a good job judges don't do that....

Know what else? Golden Rule. That's what it comes down to... "Do unto others..." right? If you were in such a state, health issues, starving, psychological issues, perhaps substance abuse issues... that you've fallen so far as you're living on the streets, sleeping on a grate - often in your own urine, on a busy city street... Would you want some wuss with a camera taking your picture, posting it on RFF or Flickr for their pals to comment on, evaluate - what have you?

I'll answer for you. No. No, you wouldn't. Which is why I'll never do it, and why you shouldn't do it. Golden rule - as corny as that sounds. And you shoot the homeless, often, for the same reason you shoot statues and mannequins. You're a coward. And your homeless pics are about as interesting as your statue and mannequin pictures. Worse than being a sh--ty photographer - amateur or otherwise, you have no humanity or soul.

antiquark
11-06-2010, 10:04
Jesus made it pretty clear how we should deal with the poor. His advice will also miraculously cure GAS. :)
Jesus told him, "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

gb hill
11-06-2010, 11:29
Jesus made it pretty clear how we should deal with the poor. His advice will also miraculously cure GAS. :)

True, but Jesus told that guy to sell all while that man was under the old covenant!(law) I'm now under the new covenant which means I can give to the poor & take their photo too without feeling guilty about it! It's called Grace!!!:D

RichL
11-06-2010, 12:07
... I'll answer for you. No. No, you wouldn't. Which is why I'll never do it, and why you shouldn't do it....

Nick be careful with your assumptions buddy. I was homeless and more to the point a "street person" for a while and couldn't have cared less if someone took my picture. It did however tick me off that they felt they could afford the price of a roll of film but not the price of a buck or a smile and a "thank's" to use me as a model :-) As for the poor ya there are a lot of different kinds. I live well below the poverty level and all that means to me is that I have to scrimp more than some for a roll of film or chemistry....so it goes.

John Lawrence
11-06-2010, 12:31
I find it interesting how many of those in favour have also included descriptions of the good deeds they have done for the poor.

John

helenhill
11-06-2010, 13:01
I find it interesting how many of those in favour have also included descriptions of the good deeds they have done for the poor.

John

I share with everyone I know.... regardless of monetary status, education or class
and usually try and have a smile on my Face :)

Good Cheer can be Contagious....

back alley
11-06-2010, 13:04
i have worked with the 'disadvantaged' since the 70's...i photograph what i please and feel no moral compunction otherwise.

robklurfield
11-06-2010, 13:27
tongue-in-cheek was intended.

Yep, I agree with this, except for singling out the (hopefully tongue-in-cheek reference to the) robber baron bankers awaiting million dollar bonuses.

gb hill
11-06-2010, 13:45
I find it interesting how many of those in favour have also included descriptions of the good deeds they have done for the poor.

John

I think that it's perhaps their way of expressing that they are not your typical bunch of paparazzi type of shooters. They, like myself enjoy every aspect of photography which includes photographing as well as helping the less fortunate. I don't photograph the less fortunate to post another photo in the gallery or on flickr. I photograph because I count everyone I meet as a friend & it's my way of keeping memories of those I meet alive. It's nice to share what others are doing to help those in need. Shows they have compassion! Everyone should listen to this song by Matthew West & get out of their "Own Little World"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvSwcMp9vU4

Bob Michaels
11-06-2010, 13:48
<snip>
Many years ago, however, a down-on-his-luck fellow confronted me in the middle of Sixth Avenue in downtown Manhattan on a New Year's Eve, asking, "Can you spare five bucks for a bottle of wine?" Feeling generous and appreciating his creative and, I have to admit, humorous pitch, I gave him something, though probably not the five he asked for, but not before saying, "You know, you can't get a decent bottle of wine in this town for five bucks anymore." I did not take his picture.

I had a friend who gave the same panhandler the same donation every day for months. Then, one day, my friend asked the panhandler for essentially the same amount as his daily donation and the panhandler quite graciously handed over a donation of his own. Broadway and West 10th Street in the 1980's. Moral transactions can go bi-directional.

Rob: I used to have a semi-friend, Tim, whose deal was to stand in downtown Orlando with a sign saying "why lie? I need a beer" I learned he lived in a nice solitary camp in the woods with most of the conveniences of home, made a adequate living, worked 3-4 6 hour days every week, and was basically happy. He once said he was ready to quit for the day and offered to buy me a beer at a local pub. I learned he was reasonably educated, well traveled, and had chosen his life. He said he was thankful he was not like most people he saw as they were stressed about job or money.

Tim reinforced my belief not to judge people's situation by our own personal sense of values. Others have their own value metrics and may be doing better regarding theirs than we are vis-a-vis ours. My trips to Cuba currently reinforce that. Not to say there are some who are doing poorly by any metric as their situation is life threatening. But very few in this thread have referenced them.

gb hill
11-06-2010, 13:59
Rob: I used to have a semi-friend, Tim, whose deal was to stand in downtown Orlando with a sign saying "why lie? I need a beer" I learned he lived in a nice solitary camp in the woods with most of the conveniences of home, made a adequate living, worked 3-4 6 hour days every week, and was basically happy. He once said he was ready to quit for the day and offered to buy me a beer at a local pub. I learned he was reasonably educated, well traveled, and had chosen his life. He said he was thankful he was not like most people he saw as they were stressed about job or money.

Tim reinforced my belief not to judge people's situation by our own personal sense of values. Others have their own value metrics and may be doing better regarding theirs than we are vis-a-vis ours. My trips to Cuba currently reinforce that. Not to say there are some who are doing poorly by any metric as their situation is life threatening. But very few in this thread have referenced them.
Bob, I have met several folks like this & to them poverty is a state of mind. They don't see themselves living impoverished lives. MOF like you mentioned live a more stress free life than most 9 to 5'ers at the moment struggling to survive making payments & hoping their job doesn't wind up down the toilet.

wgerrard
11-06-2010, 14:12
The poor know they are poor and don't need fretful photographers to remind them. So, I see nothing wrong with taking pictures of poor people. Like taking pictures of people anywhere, much depends on how other people will react to the photos, and that's something the photographer cannot control.

If a photographer thinks he or she is being exploitive or condescending or arrogant, or is wracked with guilt, when taking pictures of poor people, that is a personal issue for the photographer to contend with. I wouldn't imagine someone's feelings about photographing poor people would differ very much from his feelings just in seeing poor people. I know I often feel dismay and anger when I come across endemic poverty.

Also, street photographers usually have no idea at all abut the lives of the people they photograph.

It's interesting. I have a book by Jillian Edelstein of black and white portraits of people involved in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation hearings. It's almost entirely stark images of apartheid's abused and abusers, standing alone against a neutral wall. The photos carry powerful emotive content for me because I was there in the years immediately before the collapse of the apartheid regime, and because I know the stories told at the hearings. Certainly, many of those depicted are poor. But, many are not. However, other people, people with only a passing notion of what has happened in South Africa, typically react in two ways. First, they find the photos boring. Just people looking at a camera. Second, they almost invariably make some soothing comment about "the poor" people. I think this is because most of the photos depict black people and most Americans assume that if you are black and an African you are poor.

I wouldn't express it in religious terms, but the poor will, indeed, always with us. That's because poverty is a relative thing, expressed differently in different societies. If you make $20,000 in the U.S., you're poor. But, $20,000 is more than 10 times the average income in many countries. In the future, even if all people have homes, food to eat, and medical care, the rich will still acquire things to distinguish themselves from the people they designate as poor.

back alley
11-06-2010, 14:13
when i was a kid there was a comic who used to say that while growing up during the depression his family had no money but that they weren't poor...

Roger Hicks
11-06-2010, 14:28
And of course there's land-poor, lots of inherited land that is no longer commercially viable, and all but impossible to sell. Many people let it go for taxes. Hard to imagine for many of us, but far from unknown in the rural United States.

Cheers,

R.

Freakscene
11-06-2010, 14:55
http://gallery.leica-users.org/d/221456-2/img399a.jpg

You can help if you want to.

DNG
11-06-2010, 14:57
Have you ever done it? Why?

The question is prompted by something ebino said: Could you possibly photograph slum duelers [sic] in India effectively and know how they feel, when you just had lunch in a fancy restaurant and the gear in your camera bag would provide them food and shelter for a year?

I'm not quite sure what he meant, but when I was working for the Tibetan Government in Exile, yes, I certainly photographed some very poor people. How about a one-roomed house, no toilet, nearest running water a standpipe outside, roof repaired with tar-paper, walls papered with magazines to keep out the Himalayan cold? It was for a propaganda book, Hidden Tibet. A decade or so after I last photographed her, Pema Yangzom died there. Her daughter told me that she maintained to the end that it was only temporary: she had a house in Tibet.

How much good would it have done if I'd given up eating? (Not that 'fancy restaurant' meant much in Dharamsala in the 1980s.) And if I'd given away my cameras, I could hardly have taken pictures.

Also, what's a 'slum'? To me, it's a filthy hovel. There have been a few Tibetans and Indians I've known (well enough to eat and drink with, not just casual acquaintances or photo-subjects) who have lived in real poverty (unable to afford to send their kids to school, unable to replace the glass in the windows), but their single-room dwellings were cleaner and tidier than some middle-class houses I've seen in the USA, UK and France.

What do others think?

Cheers,

R.

I think ebino's premis is all wrong...

First off, if you are a photographing environmental [candid] images, that's what you are doing. If you would rather sell all your gear, and not take any images, go sell your camera, and give them the money. (it probably won't do any good in the long haul). Because, these areas are 3rd world, and the community is very poor. and what they need (as a country), is a TON of MONEY and a way to provide a stable growing economic country. If you sell your stuff, and could help 1 family, what about the family's that live next door? and the whole town?.... NO, it is better to give to large organizations that can handle this kind of aid. Your Photography can help educate others, that can in turn make those newly educated ones to GIVE to larger organizations for aid.

Now as far as local poor or street people, I see no difference. But, it is easier to give a few bucks to them.

Bob Michaels
11-06-2010, 15:26
Really making a difference: Caution, this goes beyond poverty and documents the relationship of Tutsi mothers and their children born of rape by the Hutu during the Rwanda genocide of 1994. This is Jonathan Torgovnik's photo essay and accompanying interviews. Not for those of weak stomachs.

read at (http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/interviews/jonathan_torgovnik.do)

or better, watch the 11 minute video "epilogue, an unspoken language" (http://www.mediastorm.com/publication/intended-consequences)

I have driven 60 miles, one way to see this exhibit twice in the last month. I also own the book. Joanthan Torgovnik was a no-show at the artist's talk as he left to go on assignment. Seeing this work, I understood his priorities.

This is probably the best example I have seen of someone photographing to make a difference.

RichL
11-06-2010, 15:53
Bob Thank you for the link. Unlike the pictures I referred to earlier (Compassion fatigue) these mean something. They and the information with them tell the story of ongoing lives and conflicts, something more than just what I classify as 'isn't that sad' pablum pictures. This type of journalism can indeed make a difference, particularly when seen by idealists that are of an age and energy level to grab the problem by the horns and wrestle with it. It's even effective in getting some of us fatigued type to donate to the cause.

maenju
11-07-2010, 01:04
This thread has been a very interesting read, thanks for all the contributions -- especially those that I don't agree with it ;) I appreciated the insights regarding multiple dimensions of poverty as well...

Like the Fiery Scotsman, I am currently living in the Philippines, and consequently avoiding taking photos of poor people would come close to not taking pictures of people at all. The stories of poor people are at least as worthwhile to tell as those of better-off ones, and just because they happen to be poor, I wouldn't want to avert my eyes, or my camera.

From a series on small scale miners in Dinagat Islands, Philippines, toiling in the heat for a few dollars a day:
http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4110/5092230623_6910fc5c44_z.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/manueld/5092230623/)

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4085/5092866282_5e6103c0f2_z.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/manueld/5092866282/)

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4148/5092894628_93a21aa99e_z.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/manueld/5092894628/)

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4152/5092329905_bd63e8d6bc_z.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/manueld/5092329905/)

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4110/5092343859_c4fb0c4086_z.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/manueld/5092343859/)

paulfish4570
11-07-2010, 04:03
Maenju, I think we all have been struck by your photos of these hard-working people. Here in the USA, we call such people the working poor. They pull their own load, and do not ask for a dime. Half of the USA was like that during the great depression. The generations that experienced that era are almost gone. My dad is one. My mom is one. Each came away from the experience with entirely different attitudes about the intervening years of relative comfort - and about the poor of today. This is not the place to describe them (it would take thousands of words). Suffice to say, their attitudes profoundly affected mine ...

Wouter
11-07-2010, 06:36
I think there is a difference between photographing povery and photographing poor people. For me, photographing poverty is about trying to reveal the injustice that created this situation. That is where the photographer really can make a difference. When photographing poor people, the challenge is to reveal their strength and dignity, and the ways in which they cope with their situation and the suffering it involves.
I too live in a comfortable environment, but not far away from poverty, and deal with poor people every day.

DNG
11-07-2010, 10:49
To, me, Photographing poor people would need to be an envronmental portraits like "maenju" and "Bob Michaels" have posted a few posts up.
Images of a strong people, that just happen to live in areas that don't offer what many here are not used to living in. They are doing the best they can, with what they have. And to capture these folks as regular folks in their environment is just like any other candid environmental portrait in less poverty stricken areas.

We don't choose what country we are born in.
And, we can only make the best of it in life, no matter where we are born.

If you can't stomach or feel guilty photographing poor folk, don't.
And in some areas. like "Chris", as mentioned (poor folk in Ft. Wayne, IN) you'd do better to avoid them altogether as far as photographing them... Wisdom with your surroundings is always a consideration.

Roger Hicks
11-08-2010, 13:24
On re-readng the whole thread, I see the fundamental flaw in ebino's original premise.

Most of us don't photograph 'rich people' and 'poor people'. We just photograph people. The dichotomy between the 'rich photographer' and the 'slum dweller' is essentially false (manufactured?), but the quote was couched in such accusatory terms that I failed to see where the problem lay.

Thanks to everyone for clarifying my thinking, and (I hope) others' thinking on the same subject -- though there were clearly those who saw through the whole thing more immediately than I.

Cheers,

R.

israel_alanis
11-08-2010, 13:33
Most of us don't photograph 'rich people' and 'poor people'. We just photograph people. The dichotomy between the 'rich photographer' and the 'slum dweller' is essentially false (manufactured?), but the quote was couched in such accusatory terms that I failed to see where the problem lay.
R.

Agree. When I go out and photograph around me, I do not make distinctions between people, I suppose that the distinction are make by each of us according to our prejudices, because if I do not offended a picture of poverty or poor people, maybe other photographs may offends me.
Regards.

wgerrard
11-08-2010, 15:20
We do not know the financial qualifications of anyone we photograph. We make assumptions if they are in an obviously poverty stricken locale, but those assumptions can be wrong.

I'm uncomfortable with the notion that photographing poor people requires a justification like depicting their plight to the world, and with the notion that poor people are somehow a different species who merit a different kind of treatment. The important word in the phrase "poor people" is "people".

FrankS
11-08-2010, 15:42
There is a difference for homeless people whose "home" is the street. They don't have the option of staying in their houses when they want privacy.

wgerrard
11-08-2010, 15:52
There is a difference for homeless people whose "home" is the street. They don't have the option of staying in their houses when they want privacy.

People photographed by street photographers may want privacy, but they don't get it. If we are going to extol one genre of photography that effectively ambushes people and invades their privacy, why would we take exception to knowingly photographing poor people? Is there merit in hiding their poverty?

I would wager that one of the great frustrations of being poor is being treated as if you were a social anomaly by virtue of your poverty.

rondo
11-13-2010, 01:50
i cannot see how pictures would contribute anything to what we already know about homelessness, desperation, poverty etc. as long as the only thing that distinguishes the photographer from a passerby is the camera in his hand---except, of course, for "decisive moments". And then they are not homeless pictures anymore-just human pictures...and that's better actually...
this is not to say that there is no photographic merit in chronicling the lives of the less fortunate ones: but passing by them and firing shots is hardly helpful.

John Camp
11-13-2010, 13:09
I'm for shooting anything interesting. Taking the odd snapshot of a poor person doesn't seem very interesting. But I live in LA, possibly the most ridiculously extravagant city in the world, and also a city inhabited by tens of thousands of illegal aliens and nearly as many homeless people. The other night, on my way to an expensive restaurant in Silver Lake, I saw a woman and her two small girl children (7 & 5?) -- I assumed they were mother and daughters, but don't know for sure -- scavenging aluminum cans from a trash barrel. I find the contrasts compelling, and *very* interesting, for a whole lot of social and political reasons.

robklurfield
11-16-2010, 19:00
shot in 1983 or 1983. Ronald Reagan and Geo. H.W. Bush were preparing to run for reelection. Reagan's presidency focused on healthful and outdoor lifestyles. For example, ketchup was classified as vegetable for purposes of funding school lunch programs (ie, "we gave 'em little packs of ketchup; that's all the vegetables those kids need"). People were encouraged to rediscover the simple pleasures of camping out and sleeping under the stars, as the gentlemen in this picture are demonstrating. In earlier times, such behavior would have labeled these men as hobos and victims of catastrophes like the great depression. Today, we many people act as if folks like these were simply lazy and not willing to work. I fear that we're headed back towards times in the US where there will be rising numbers of homeless. I think we may be revisiting the numbers of people living in the streets that we last saw during Reagan's presidency. I don't think we'll see Hoovervilles rising in Central park as we did in the 30's, partly because the government will not allow people to set up camp that way.

One could argue that I was invading the privacy of these fellows. And, to a certain extent that's obviously true. I've never printed this shot before or shared it on the web. In fact, I don't think I've seen this since I originally developed the film. The shot needs some post-processing work to fix the significant underexposure, but I'll stand behind it as a document of the way things were and an unfortunate reminder that we may be heading down that same road again today.

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4111/5183695490_8ed09c7c9b_b.jpg

The total happy nonchalance of the people atop this big boulder in Central Park in NYC says a lot to me about the nature of many, though fortunately not all, of our citizenry and our attitudes about the poor. They so easily ignore these two men.

robklurfield
11-16-2010, 19:17
http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1283/5183767978_ed85400627_b.jpg

john neal
11-17-2010, 03:05
Dear Roger,

Having just returned from the subcontinent, this is an issue that I have had to address recently. Rather like funerals in 3rd world contires, I try to avoid taking "travel" shots of poor people. Individual portraits are OK, and often result in a new, if short-lived, friendship (and a contribution to the family coffers). Where we passed complete shanties on the outskirts of Delhi & Jaipur, I simply put my camera away - we need to allow people some dignity.

While in Nepal a few years ago, we came across a team of women breaking stones by hand to resurface a mountain road. They lived in bamboo shanties along the road and made the equivalent of 2p (5c ?) a day. From this they fed and clothed their children and themselves, their husbands being away looking for work. Again, I could not take photographs of their conditions for my amusement.

Maybe it's just me?

patois
11-17-2010, 05:36
I'm a homeless outreach worker by day and I visit people living in all sorts of spaces. Our main rule is that regardless of what my opinion of where the person is living it is still their "home" and we must behave the way we would as a guest anywhere. Our agency has a no photo rule which we have only broken once. Your challenge is to keep the humanity and the notion of "home," in the images. Far too often, I find street photography and poverty related images parasitic and gross. The key is not to feel what the other person is feeling, because you can't but to treat the person with respect.

Nikkor AIS
11-17-2010, 10:53
http://rogaltacdesign.smugmug.com/Other/Early-Work/DSC71533/1086145463_bKVng-L.jpg (http://rogaltacdesign.smugmug.com/Other/Early-Work/11862178_etGoA#1086145463_bKVng-A-LB)

Nikkor 300 2.8 IF-ED AIS on F2AS taken with Tri-X.

Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion. And that's cool. I personally have never felt what I do as a street photographer is "parasitic and gross." So I don't feel like I need to be offended. Not at all.

Patois: I would like you to expand on why this type of photography is so objectionable to you. And the way you mention that you work with the poor and others photograph them makes it seem like you have some moral superiority. Which you don't. Well, not IMO.

What I shoot is real, it's not set up ... It's life.
Life isn't always pretty but "to me" a real unstaged photo on the street is a rare and beautiful thing.

For me, a touched-up photo of a model lit up with lights and pasted with makeup is objectionable. But that's just me.

The fact that some of my subjects are poor had nothing to do with it at all. I don't ask how much money you've got in your pockets before I consider you a worthy subject.

http://rogaltacdesign.smugmug.com/Other/Early-Work/DSC3857/1054520041_zzxpZ-L.jpg (http://rogaltacdesign.smugmug.com/Other/Early-Work/11862178_etGoA#1054520041_zzxpZ-A-LB)

Nikkor 300 2.8 IF-ED AIS on F2AS Tri-X

http://rogaltacdesign.smugmug.com/Other/Early-Work/Young-Despite-the-Years-1/841635625_4qit4-L.jpg (http://rogaltacdesign.smugmug.com/Other/Early-Work/11862178_etGoA#841635625_4qit4-A-LB)

Nikkor 16 mm 2.8 AIS on F2AS Tri-X

Your results are based on your approach.

AgentX
11-20-2010, 19:25
A lot of great, compassionate and/or interesting work has been done of the poor, and I'm sure will be done in the future.

However, the poor, the dispossessed, citizens of developing countries...they've become part of a general dialogue of what's "picturesque," or at least worthy to photograph simply by nature of what it is. Like picket fences, clapboard churches, and old factories. So no, I tend not to photograph this stuff simply for the sake of adding yet another stereotyped image to the cosmic file folder of "pictures of poor people," and maybe showing them off for my own ego, helping me craft a "man of the world who's seen things, sometimes terrible things" self-image.

I have two photos from Africa in the gallery (and more not posted) that I find problematic for just this reason. Took them and still not sure what to make of them, even though they're not particularly interesting images. While living in Africa, I found it very hard to just take photos of people for no specific purpose, both those in really vulnerable situations like refugees and those just going about their daily lives.

I have friends who can joyously engage everyone everywhere, snapping digital shots of people in the third world without the least bit of self-consciousness or enjoining a bad reaction from anyone. I can't do that; part of it may be some general thing about my demeanor, part of it may be the fact that I'm often using more elaborate-looking equipment, and most of it's probably my own conflicted-ness about doing it and a good deal of over-thinking. Although as a teenage photo student, I thought Sontag was full of it, I have come to see photography as an act of possession in many ways, which can easily take on aggressive or exploitative overtones. But at my moments of the least self-loathing, I can also manage see these shots as simple notes from my diary of where I've lived and what I've seen.

If I was a journalist, documentarian, or artist with a story, agenda, or project going on, I might have felt differently. I did consider several projects, such as a portrait series of people involved in transport (bearers, bicyclists, moto-taxi and mini-bus drivers) or even some more arty stuff about Western perceptions of the "other," but work and civil wars and elections kind of got in the way.

Colin Corneau
11-20-2010, 20:31
Why are you doing it?

Answer that question and you'll answer if it's worthwhile or not. Everything else is secondary.

This reminds me of Bill Jay's long time project "Men Like Me"...a truly original, unique and very compassionate body of work. The title says it all.

Some people shoot, and show, their work to self-aggrandize. To win awards. To pump up themselves. I guess that's one thing, but just ask yourself why you're doing it.

Photography is just a means to an end...a tool. You can use a tool to build a shelter or to bash someone's head in. Your choice.