Viral photoshoot slammed for ‘distasteful’ portrayal of poverty

May 2, 2019 - 8:09 PM
Children in poverty
Manila's streets serve as dangerous playground for children from impoverished urban communities. (The STAR/File photo)

A photoshoot of a model in an impoverished area gained controversy for supposedly glamourizing poverty as a mere “concept” and how some of her poses appeared to be sexualized.

Facebook page “7AM Rant” uploaded a series of photos with the album title “Grungy” in which a model wore tattered clothes and posed as someone living in the area.


Some social media users, however, were not too keen on the concept of the photoshoot itself.

Others argued that it was “distasteful” while there were those who noticed that some of the models’ poses seemed to cater to the male gaze.

There were photos that explicitly displayed the model’s cleavage, as well as her behind.

A particular Facebook user commented that the problem lies with the thinking that poverty can be used as a sort of “aesthetic.” She wrote:

“When the privileged think that the struggle of the lower class is aesthetic and could be used for their fashion, that’s when you know we have a big problem.”

Another user wrote:

“Sinamantala lang yung sitwasyon ng kahirapan para makapukaw ng atensyon ng karamihan.”

The model argued that her team “was not romanticizing poverty” and that they were only drawn to the concept. Part of her explanation reads:

“We’re not romanticising poverty here… Gusto lang namin yung concept… don’t we have freedom to choose what concept we want? Kung iintindihin lang mabuti, wala naman masama sa shoot na yan, nagiging masama lang because of the negative thoughts na binabato niyo.”

Her defense earned another slew of criticisms, where social media users stressed that poverty is a real issue that cannot be used as a mere form of aesthetic or concept.

“Since when did poverty became a ‘concept’?” a Facebook user wrote.

“People are dying because of poverty. And yet you still choose to be blind and deaf of the reality that you really did romanticize poverty aka ‘gRuNGe’ by defending this insensitive photoshoot of yours and your team?” another user commented.

The problem

There are certain ethical considerations when trying to capture images, according to a photography education website.

One of them is when the photographer is trying to capture poverty or the people living in such conditions, ExpertPhotography said.

Unless the aim of the photoshoot was to bring awareness to the impoverished people’s plight and initiate others to help them, it is otherwise exploitative.

“The problem comes when the sole aim is to build a portfolio of work simply to promote yourself (using the poverty photos),” the website noted.

This is where the meaning of “poverty porn” comes in.

It is defined as the exploitation of the poor people’s conditions by taking pictures or recording them “for the sole purpose of eliciting an emotional experience and ultimately, money,” according to HuffPost.

In order to avoid such instances, ExpertPhotography suggests that photographers must be able to “build a personal relationship” with the impoverished and get to know their respective personal backgrounds, among others.

“When taking photos of people in poverty, ask yourself these questions,” the website shared.

“Is this photo to help me, or is my aim to help this person? Do I know anything about this person’s background story, and why they are in the position they’re in? Have I reached out to that person, to build a personal relationship?” it continued.