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Food & Hunger

Photo of 'Poor' Indian Boys With Fake Food Sparks Debate Over 'Poverty Porn'

Why Global Citizens Should Care
One of the most pressing paradoxes in the global food system is the amount of food that's going to waste, while millions of people are still going hungry. The issue of "poverty porn" shows that it's important to consider the ways in which we draw attention to hunger and poverty, and to ensure it's done in a way that's empowering to those affected. You can join us by taking action in support of the Global Goal to ensure that everyone has access to adequate nutrition here.

An award-winning photographer has come under fire in a row that branded his images “unethical.” 

The photographs, posted to the World Press Photo Instagram account in a takeover this weekend, have reignited the conversation around “poverty porn” — meaning the exploitation of poor or vulnerable people. 

The Italian photographer, Alessio Mamo, took the images in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, which are two of the poorest states in India, as part of a 2011 photo series about the issue of hunger contrasted with food waste in wealthier countries.

Take action: Call on World Leaders to Focus on Adolescent Girls and Improve Their Nutrition

As part of the project, called “Dreaming Food”, he placed fake food on a table in front of his subjects, and asked them to “dream about some food that they would like to find on their table,” according to Mamo’s caption

These photographs are from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh two of the poorest states of India. From the series "Dreaming Food", a conceptual project about hunger issue in India. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ [This project has been the subject of much online debate. Please read Alessio Mamo’s statement, released on 24 July 2018, giving more details and apologising for any offence: https://medium.com/@alessio.mamo/my-statement-on-dreaming-food-7169257d2c5c] ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ My name is Alessio Mamo (@alessio_mamo) an Italian freelance photographer based in Catania, Sicily. In 2008 I began my career in photojournalism focusing on contemporary social, political and economic issues. I extensively cover issues related to refugee displacement and migration starting in Sicily, and extending most recently to the Middle East. I was awarded 2nd prize in the People Singles category of #WPPh2018 and this week I’m taking over World Press Photo's Instagram account. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Despite economic growth, a majority of the Indian population still lives in extreme poverty and disease. Behind India’s new-found economic strength are 300 million poor people who live on less than $1 per day. Government figures may indicate a reduction in poverty. But the truth is, with increasing global food prices, poverty is spreading everywhere like a swarm of locusts. These pictures are taken in rural areas where conditions are worse than in the cities and where close to 70% of India’s population reside today. Statistics show that 2.1 million children under 5 years old die of malnutrition annually. The idea of this project was born after reading the statistics of how much food is thrown away in the West, especially during Christmas time. I brought with me a table and some fake food, and I told people to dream about some food that they would like to find on their table. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #WPPh2018#asia #dreamingfood #india

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“Despite economic growth, a majority of the Indian population still lives in extreme poverty and disease,” he wrote in the caption. “Behind India’s new-found economic strength are 300 million poor people who live on less than $1 a day.”

“Government figures may indicate a reduction in poverty,” he added. “But the truth is, with increasing global food prices, poverty is spreading everywhere like a swarm of locusts.” 

The row over the images has now escalated, with a number of commentators speaking out against the photo series. 

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“This was a very badly thought concept, one that follows the many ‘here’s all the food a kid eats in a week’ concept we see all the time. But this one turned exploitative,” tweeted Olivier Laurant, a former editor with the British Journal of Photography, now with the Washington Post

“It rightly should be criticised!” he added. “The work should never have been produced.” 

One Instagram user wrote on the post: “This concept itself is so inhumane and asking people to dream about their favourite food who are already battling daily to get food on time is disgusting… To make some people understand importance of food you don’t need to exploit people who already don’t have any at all.” 

Another said the images were “in very poor taste,” and a third described the photos as “ridiculous.” 

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Indian photojournalist Hari Adivarekar wrote in a comment on Facebook that it was “poor journalism and even poorer humanity,” describing the series as “deeply problematic and exploitative.” 

“Poor people are NOT props,” Adivarekar said. “Enough photographers pretending to be journalists have come and exploited countless people in countries like India purely for this result, a life-changing feature or award.” 

“Doesn’t matter that people are reduced to this binary of their hunger, the most complex and difficult part of them ignored because what are they but some mannequins to visualise stats,” they said. “Too many have come and done this kind of shameful work in India and their rewards just open the door for many others to think it’s OK. It isn’t. It’s just inexcusable.” 

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), a quarter of the world’s undernourished people live in India — and 21% of people live in less that $1.90 a day. WFP described the country as a “key focus for tackling hunger on a global scale.” 

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Mamo, who was invited to curate the Instagram account for a week with other prize winners after he won second prize in the award’s “people category”, issued a statement about the controversy. 

“The idea was to create a contrast between a typical Western table with luxurious food in a poor context that could emphasise this contrast,” he said, in a statement published on Medium.

“I was in touch with an Indian organisation, that I supported economically later (I will not mention them in order to protect them and their work) who helped me logistically to develop the project,” he said.

“Most of the people enjoyed spontaneously to be part of this and photographed behind the table,” he added. “The people I photographed were living in a village and they were not suffering from malnutrition anymore, they were not hungry or sick, and they freely participated in the project.” 

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“The only goal of the concept was to let western people think, in a provocative way, about the waste of food,” he said. “Maybe it did not work at all, maybe I did it in the wrong way, but I worked honestly and respectfully with all the people involved. I only had the intention to let people think about this issue.” 

“I’m a human being and I can make mistakes,” he said. “I want to offer my deepest apologies to anyone who felt offended and hurt by these photos, and to the people I photographed.” 

World Press Photo also issued a statement, reported theGuardian, saying: “The photographers are responsible for selecting their work to show and writing their captions.”