Thoughts from an agricultural development gal in Ghana

Perceptions of Poverty

An EWB colleague in Malawi, Duncan McNicholl, has recently received a lot of attention for a project he started called Perspectives of Poverty. The project aims to show another side of Africa, the one not commonly shown in news reports and NGO publications.

Africa is often portrayed in the West with photos of fly-covered children in torn clothing. Duncan’s reaction: “How had these photos failed so spectacularly to capture the intelligence, the laughter, the resilience, and the capabilities of so many incredible people? … I thought that these images were robbing people of their dignity, and I felt that the rest of the story should be told as well.”

Duncan told me about his idea while we in Toronto together for our pre-departure training with EWB. He wanted to show the same “poor” person in two photos: one looking typically poor, with dirty clothes and a sad expression, and one looking fabulous, all smiles and Sunday best!

It sounded awesome – I wanted to try it too! But when I got to Ghana I had trouble thinking about how I would communicate this idea to the people around me. Had they seen these photos of “typical” Africa in the West? What would they think of me asking them to “look poor” so I could take their picture?

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, Duncan put up his first stab at the project with photos of 2 friends. It looked great, and finally gave me the resolve to try it on my own. So after carefully explaining the project (and possibly being understood), here are some of my own contributions to the Perceptions of Poverty project!

You can read more about Duncan’s project on his blog, on the popular Aid Watch blog, on the blog Poverty to Power by Duncan Green (Oxfam UK), or in an online New York Post article. Congrats on all the press, Duncan!


5 responses

  1. Pingback: Meander » Blog Archive » Perspectives on Poverty

  2. David

    Great work Erin. I think some large prints of these pictures displayed as an EWB event (Perhaps in conjunction with Duncan’s work) would be a great eye-opener for the public.

    May 29, 2010 at 12:39 am

  3. Mike

    Whoa, what an awesome illustration of the (manipulative?) power of marketing and photography!

    How did your subjects feel about the “poor” photos? I’d be curious to know if and where they might have been exposed to similar imagery…

    Keep up the good work!

    June 2, 2010 at 12:52 pm

  4. Olivia

    great photos, Erin!

    June 6, 2010 at 10:16 pm

  5. I love Duncan’s idea, will definitely be checking out his blog; most of the images we see in places like Canada are limited in so many ways.

    May 8, 2017 at 1:48 pm

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