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India hunger photo series sparks 'poverty porn' backlash online

by Madeleine Drury | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 24 July 2018 17:42 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A farmer shows wheat crop damaged by unseasonal rains in his wheat field at Sisola Khurd village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 24, 2015. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

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The photographer published a series of images, titled "Dreaming Food", showing children covering their eyes next to fake meals

By Madeleine Drury

LONDON, July 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A series of photographs on hunger in India that show villagers posing next to tables full of food has sparked a backlash online and been branded as exploitative "poverty porn" by critics.

The pictures by Italian photographer Alessio Mamo, which show children covering their eyes next to fake meals, went viral after the World Press Photo Foundation shared them on Instagram.

Mamo apologised in a statement on Tuesday after several Instagram and Twitter users criticised the "Dreaming Food" series, with many posting the hashtag #PovertyPorn in protest.

"This is extremely insensitive. There are better ways to raise awareness than to try and snatch dignity away from people," Instagram user shraddhanjalis said in a post. "A little empathy would go a long way. Poor people are not props."

Yet other social media users defended the series as an attempt to shock and engage the public on the issue of hunger.

"The only goal ... was to let western people think, in a provocative way, about the waste of food," said Mamo, who took the photos in 2011 in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

"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," his statement said.

In response to the online backlash, World Press Photo - home to one of the world's leading news photography prizes - said in a statement that photographers were responsible for selecting which pictures to post on the organisation's Instagram account.

At least 194 million Indians go hungry daily, says the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, while India ranked near the bottom of the 2017 Global Hunger Index, at 100 of 119 countries.

A third of all food produced worldwide is lost or wasted before it can be eaten, said Danielle Nierenberg, president of the U.S.-based research group Food Tank.

"I hope that all artists and journalists look at the issue of food insecurity and food waste in a way that doesn't objectify poor people or ignore the true struggles and challenges they face," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The issue of "poverty porn" hit global headlines in December when a charity appeal starring British singer Ed Sheeran won Radi-Aid's Rusty Radiator Award for the worst fundraising video - for what judges deemed offensive depictions of suffering.

(Reporting By Maddie Drury, Editing by Kieran Guilbert and Katy Migiro. (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org))

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