Trapped. The first word that comes to mind when I look at this picture is: trapped. This child is trapped in poverty.

This photo (taken by me in Eshowe, South Africa, 2007) is not unlike those that many charity organizations use in their publicity to ask for your donations.. Hungry, dirty, sad, African children who need your help to get a better life. To set them free, from the chains of poverty.

I react strongly to these photos. Not because I’m moved to tears and want to stop what I’m doing to make a donation. But because I feel like they are deceiving. This is not the Africa I know and love; an Africa alive with spirit despite one’s situation. This is an Africa sensationalized for Western donors to motivate them to empty their pockets.

A friend of mine had a similar reaction. His response was to start a photo project, entitled Perspectives of Poverty (intro post here). He takes a series of shots of people he knows or works with in rural Malawi. In one photo, he asks his model to look like the charity organizations want them to look – “only people who are dressed poorly”, according to one man. In the second photo, he asks his model to look his/her finest.

The project is still a work-in-progress, but so far it is rather revealing about how photography and charitable publicity has and continues to shape the Western world’s view of Africa. After all, when you think of Africa, do you think of the child above? Or the people below (photo from Nairobi, Kenya, 2009)?

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