Any websites or blogs similar to this one?
November 21, 2013 8:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of starting a low-key blog that posts black and white photographs of impoverished and disadvantaged people from around the world. The stories don't have to be elaborate or contain a lot of photos. Each one can consist of only one photo and a short description of the person's plight. Are there any similar websites/blogs out there?

Why I want the photos to be in black and white is strictly an aesthetic choice, I just feel that they generally convey more emotion than colored photos. I would also love it if you could pitch some ideas for the blog name because I am undecided on that too.
posted by omar.a to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are these photos you are taking of people you know personally and want to get the word out about? Or you are searching the internet for sad photos/stories of people and then republishing them as some sort of anthology of human misery?... because the whole venture, unless it's done trying to help them or something, sounds pretty damn exploitative--infinitely more so if you have any sort of ads anywhere on your site, where you are thereby profiting from their misery.
posted by blueberry at 8:39 PM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

The contributors will be taking the photos and no, there are no ads. The point of the "photo-stories" is to shed light on these problems and there is no reason to assume they are exploitative.
posted by omar.a at 8:49 PM on November 21, 2013

To my ears, photos of "impoverished and disadvantaged people from around the world" does sound exploitative, moreso that you want the photos to be in black and white 'cause it'll make them look "better" (cooler? sadder? more pathetic?)

So the actual subjects of these photos--these people--are they signing photo releases? Are they being made aware and are they okay with the fact that their their likenesses, names, family's name, and stories will be used in such a manner?
posted by blueberry at 8:58 PM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

The picture plus story idea makes me think of Humans of New York.
posted by wsquared at 9:05 PM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know of several professional documentary photographers who have done very serious and considered ongoing projects and produce books similar to what you describe; however I can't think of any blogs like this - probably for good reason.

If you do this, at the very least make sure there are attributions.
Your contributors should have model releases, and the models should know what's being done with the photo, exactly what the caption will say, whether or not their name will be used, etc.

I have mixed feelings about 'a short description of the person's plight' - these plights aren't short nor simple, and neither are the rememdies.

And lastly... this sounds icky. Super icky. The project itself may be okay, but the way you've phrased it here isn't good. It makes it sound exploitative. Honestly, it sounds like 'disaster porn'.

Could your contributors let the people take their own pictures, and tell their OWN stories??? Maybe the potential subjects have ideas about good ways to raise awareness? Or nonprofits working in the area?

I'm with Blueberry; I think before you do this, you need to read up on industry ethics surrounding this type of thing. The words you're using indicate an attitude that gives me pause.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:22 PM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

@blueberry: My idea is no more exploitative than the hundreds of war photographers who have exhibitions and get prizes and media coverage for their work featuring war victims. Are the people being photographed signing photo releases? The keyword in what you wrote is: "To my ears.." and that's exactly what it is: your opinion.

@wsquared: This is great!

@jrobin276: Maybe you're right, maybe the way I described it isn't the way I intend it to be. Don't hold it against me.
posted by omar.a at 9:24 PM on November 21, 2013

War photographers are usually associated with news organizations, not blogs. True, most people in public spaces don't have legal expectations of privacy, but I think you'd get less opposition if you have your photographers pay the people for their time and stories. Will readers be able to donate to the subjects of your posts?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:34 PM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

A long time ago (early 2000s?) I saw a guy's blog where he interviewed people on the bus with a nice portrait photo. Some of the stories were amazing, but I can't remember the name enough to find it on Google (sorry).
posted by mathowie at 9:36 PM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't find this idea offensive. In the age of Snapchat and Instagram, this is just putting existing technology to a particular purpose. Some people document birds, some celebrities, some storms, you people in tough situations, and others whatever. At least yours has some higher purpose beyond enriching yourself. Are there similar sites? Well yes, any photo journalistic site is similar in some way. Just the subject matter is different. Exploitative: "unfairly or cynically using another person or group for profit or advantage." I don't think this meets that definition.
posted by Dansaman at 9:56 PM on November 21, 2013

@Ideefixe: Although many would argue that serious blogs can be no less credible than well-established magazines, I respect journalism and war photographers enough not to draw a comparison between a blog and a news organization. You've got to understand that the point of this blog is to shed light on the human aspect of the people. I do think that paying the subjects is a good idea, but I don't want that to deter contributors from covering as many stories as possible. The story itself will mention where the person lives and how they spend their time, so it is up to the reader to find the person and help out. I am interested in incentives to make this happen, but I do think that I will be dealing with a very cynical crowd and I have to tread slowly with this.

@mathowie: Thanks anyway. I think it's a good idea limiting interviews to a specific setting, it's very interesting.

@Dansaman: Thanks.
posted by omar.a at 10:03 PM on November 21, 2013


A: If you have to defend your idea starting your sentence with "My idea is no more exploitative than..." that's probably a good warning sign that you should listen to.

B: War photographers are journalists, and if they're not getting signed releases it's most likely because they're under fire and any attempt at paperwork would be putting their subjects lives at risk.
"...who have exhibitions and get prizes..."
C: You see, it's tossed-off phrasing like this that makes me question your motives.

It sounds like your saying "Hey look, these accredited war journalist guys get to take pictures of people suffering and dying and they're getting all of the glory!" I'm just worried that you're trying to milk the misery of others for your own personal benefit (web-fame).
"To my ears.." and that's exactly what it is: your opinion.
D: Yes omar.a, just like everyone else on AskMetafilter--

(the place where you asked your question, seemingly more concerned about marketing (what to name your blog) than the sad, possibly involuntary and unwitting people whose misery you will be putting up on display for others to gawk at)

...and everyone on the planet, I too have an opinion; one based both on experience and concern for others. And I will stand up for people if I think they are being exploited by someone doing things for his own reasons without taking into consideration the lives/feelings/self-respect of others, who, at the moment of the photograph maybe be having the worst possible day of their lives.

Finally, and most importantly:

E: You did not answer the questions:
Will the subjects be signing releases?
Or will they be made aware as to how their likenesses and personal information will be added to your collection for all the world to see?

posted by blueberry at 10:25 PM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you need to be careful of two things:

1) War journalists are criticised for the ethics of what they do, and that's a discussion that's taken quite seriously. It's sometimes justified by the public good of raising awareness of the horrible things that are happening, but some people acknowledge that it's at the expense of the dignity of the subjects.

2) How are you going to police the integrity of submissions? It's one thing if someone mis-captions a photo of a building, or of kittens, but I'd feel awful if I published a photo and story with it only to be contacted by the subject to say actually they don't have HIV and why are you telling their friends they have? or worse, actually they do have schizophrenia but the people at work didn't know - thanks very much. I would also be very upset to see myself on a blog with details about my life if I hadn't given permission.

Make sure you think through the pitfalls and the ethics and you'll be fine.
posted by kadia_a at 11:02 PM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing the ethical concerns behind this, as well as legal ramifications of incorrectly stating something about an ordinary person who has an expectation of privacy. There are lots of media release examples out there and discussions on the ethics like this. You don't technically or legally need to get releases if you're not going to profit directly from these photographs, and you're careful about accuracy but you really need to think about the impact this will have on the people photographed. One conversation I had years ago with a young woman who had benefited from charitable aid and was being asked to share her personal history with potential donors, and off the record, she told me how hard and embarrassing it was but that she felt she had no choice out of gratitude.

Pity is a long way from compassion. You're planning a project to raise awareness of complicated issues through personal stories, and you'll sabotage your entire project if you don't think hard about the ethics raised here.

These people have no voices, and your project is supposed to tell their stories with their voices, not replacing them with a voice-over of condescending pity.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:52 PM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have great reservations about your project, but you may be able to learn something from Invisible People, a project which features the homeless. Notably, and perhaps essentially, the founder was once himself homeless.

There is an interesting website called Africa is a Country (title to be taken as irony), which concerns itself with the complex discourse about the problems faced by Africa and Africans. I know of it because I follow a photography collective called Hahn+Hartung [I am not specifically aware of being related], who have done an interesting project called The Forgotten -- which is about the African middle class, a group seemingly invisible to Western media, but growing in many African countries. The constant coverage of the "plight" (picking your word deliberately) of impoverished, hungry, or politically powerless Africans was bitterly eviscerated eight years ago in the classic essay How to Write about Africa. While you haven't stated the focus of your project, I think you would be well served by thinking about how you are framing yours and to what purpose in light of these counter-narrative discussions I have provided.
posted by dhartung at 12:30 AM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, it is not that hard to do an ethical release. I have to do them at work often, and we get pushback from journalists who want to interview sexually abused minors on camera and see no privacy concerns. Basically, when it comes to minors, we have to get parent or guardian's permission, the children cannot be visually identifiable if it puts their safety at risk (all our kids are high-risk, so we replace with a similar age/gender child or use a photograph where the kid is not quite visible (out of focus face or 1/4 profile). We do allow photographs of babies because they change so much it's not possible to trace a child easily.

With adults, we get permission and we verify the facts of their stories, and we strive to use generally positive language, with several staff evaluating the story. When we can, we use their own words, but we're working with translations and it's often not quite possible. Some adults we've interviewed have been way more willing to talk about harsh stuff than I thought they would, others do not want their private pain publicised. You need to ask.

We had a really positive story recently about a kid who got into university, and we were able to use his photograph (with his permission and awareness of what it was being used for), but we still ended up deleting parts of his story because of the impact it would have on his younger siblings, according to our policy.

People think oh, third world, it won't get back to them but I work with a kid who I have a photo of looking like the cover shot for an anti-trafficking campaign who is now my friend on facebook and regularly updates and googles herself as she has been interviewed about how she grew up and was almost sold repeatedly.

You just need a media release form in the local language, and some guidelines for the journalists to follow. You lose some details but you gain a lot more trust and respect for the people you're portraying. I'd be happy to mail you the version and media guidelines we use if you memail me.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:00 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Possibly only tangentially related, but Canada's National Film Board's At Home/Chez Soi is a series of mini-documentaries chronicling a project to give mentally ill homeless housing (bit more complex, but)

(2nding 'Invisible People')

The charity Modest Needs has little squibs on modestly dire situations.

All three are far beyond a...a 'poverty porn' model, and maybe there is something useful for you to extract from how and why they're presenting their subjects.

Googling 'cyberbegging' will bring up sites with self-submitted write-ups of misery, often with photos.
posted by kmennie at 6:51 AM on November 22, 2013

Are there any similar websites/blogs out there?

If there ARE websites that consist of nothing more than evocative (and aesthetically pleasing) photos of "impoverished and disadvantaged" people, accompanied by a "short description of the person's plight" with enough info "that anyone moved" to help out "can find the person", I would have read about it on the blue. And I don't mean that in a good way.

The point of the "photo-stories" is to shed light on these problems and there is no reason to assume they are exploitative.

On what problems, exactly? I think the word is out that it generally sucks to be "impoverished and disadvantaged". So, unless you have a new angle on this story, I have good reason to think this is exploitative. And "black and white is strictly an aesthetic choice, I just feel that they generally convey more emotion than colored photos" and "stories don't have to be elaborate" essentially confirm my suspicions.

To my mind, Humans of New York and the website of portraits of people on the subway are nothing like what you've described. Those sites are about "us". The very nature of your site—the fact that it is designed to raise awareness about the plights of the subjects—makes your site about "them".
posted by she's not there at 7:17 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The point of the "photo-stories" is to shed light on these problems
...the point of this blog is to shed light on the human aspect of the people.

It sounds like you want to humanize people who are given less thought than the gum on the bottom of someone's shoe. In that case, you might be interested in this. I realize you don't want to focus only on homeless people, but even this article will give you a lot to think about, e.g. "Banning was initially hesitant to take on the project because he felt the often-ignored population was paradoxically ubiquitous in the world of documentary photography. The images seen were typically shot in the same manner: black-and-white, on-location, and, typically, with a sense of despair."

I'm also reminded of a blog that was written on behalf of a homeless person (who has since died) who lived in the Roncesvalles area of Toronto.

I googled "homeless man blog Toronto" to find it and got a bunch of interesting hits, including blogs written by homeless people. This one in particular has the subtitle: "First, get to know those whom you plan to help, then you'll know what help they really need."

In sum, if you want to raise awareness about issues that low-income, marginally housed and poor people face, you're going to have to do a LOT more than just start a blog that contains photos and short paragraphs. For starters, maybe get involved with anti-poverty organizations and really learn what needs to be done. Only then could you even start to think about starting a blog that features "these" people.
posted by foxjacket at 8:32 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

"black and white photographs of impoverished and disadvantaged people from around the world" = SEBASTIÃO SALGADO
posted by Tom-B at 12:03 PM on November 22, 2013

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