BBC News

Photographer hammered over India 'poverty porn' images

Published
image copyrightWorld Press Photo/Instagram
image captionPhotographer Alessio Mamo's series is called Dreaming Food

An Italian photographer's series on hunger in India has triggered massive backlash online, with many calling the images exploitative and "poverty porn".

Alessio Mamo posed poor Indians in front of a table with "fake food" on it and made them cover their eyes.

They were shot in two Indian states which have high rates of malnutrition.

The photos, part of a series titled Dreaming Food, were taken in 2011. They went viral after the World Press Photo Foundation shared them on Instagram.

  • India's enduring problem with malnutrition
  • India food law: The hungry republic

In the caption to his series, Mr Mamo wrote that he "told people to dream about some food that they would like to find on their table". He described it as a "conceptual project about hunger issue in India".

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. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 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

A post shared by World Press Photo Foundation (@worldpressphoto) on

The pictures were posted on to the World Press Photo Foundation account by Mr Mamo who was given control of its Instagram account. The body regularly hands over their Instagram feed to various photographers to run.

It is unclear if the photos shared by Mr Mamo were vetted by the foundation.

Many people on social media blamed both.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

In the face of the outrage, the World Press Photo Foundation posted a statement online which said ultimately, photographers are "responsible for selecting their work".

It added that they were only given a set of "guidelines" to follow.

In an email to the BBC, Mr Mamo said the goal of his project was to urge "people in the West to think, in a provocative way, about the waste of food".

"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," he added.

Mr Mamo also apologised for any offence his photos may have caused.

Poverty and hunger are enduring problems in India, which has the largest number of malnourished children in the world.

India has consistently performed poorly on the Global Hunger Index - last year, it was ranked 100 out of 119 developing countries on the scale.

Related Topics

  • India
  • Child poverty
  • Photography
  • Instagram
  • Poverty
  • Social media

More on this story

  • India food law: The hungry republic