Sensational images of poverty are often used to frame issues of humanitarian aid to advocate for a cause, design programs, or raise funds. This practice, often called “poverty porn,” represents people living in poverty as victims rather than as people capable and determined to define their own future.
From multiple photos of rape victims in the Congo used to raise funding in annual reports, to repeated images of squatting South Asian women looking up at Western aid workers, to pictures of naked and emaciated children lying in the rubble after Haiti’s earthquake, to initiatives that seek donations of used underwear to send to Africa, a group of us
saw that questionable instances of framing and narrative were rampant.
We decided we needed to create more dialogue and debate around this topic. So over the past few years, we have been working on building a platform that actively aims to foster discussion on the way communities are portrayed and media is produced, and how communities can be brought into the conversation about how they are represented.
The project’s creators are a group of practitioners whose experience spans humanitarian aid, transmedia storytelling, process and service design, ethnography, visual thinking, social innovation, and technology. We came together because each of us has faced the challenge of representing communities in our work. And we had individually seen numerous examples of “poverty porn.” We recognized that the questions are many and complex, and that there is a need for a larger public discussion about ethical representation to shift the focus from aid to agency.
The project is a multimedia platform that explores the way we see, listen and frame stories of “the poor” — and how respectful and relevant storytelling can create more context and nuance, and depict more complex realities. We aim to engage practitioners, educators, journalists, and students in the question: How do we as a community dedicated to social impact maintain local agency, partnership, andrelevant, respectful narrative as core values of our work?
The website and blog will source content from a diverse global set of authors and will serve as an educational resource and discussion forum around visual literacy, ethnography, and narrative integrity.
We will be expanding over time to develop a discussion and salon series, research, commissioned and submitted commentary, and an educational curriculum.
We invite you to explore the site
. Let us know your thoughts on how to generate constructive conversation and learning on eradicating poverty porn and creating meaningful, effective content for social impact.
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