What Does Poverty Look Like? A Photo Contest Has Surprising Answers

· Nov. 1, 2015, 12:03 pm

You might expect a photo contest about poverty to be depressing.

But it’s not. And if you’re a skeptic, all you need to do is look at entries in the annual contest about poverty that’s been run by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) for the past ten years.

The contest asked photographers to submit images that document the strengths and struggles of the working poor. This week, CGAP announced the winners from the 3,300-plus entries.

The pictures depict the day-to-day life of workers in countries like Turkey, Peru and Tanzania.

The judges were struck by the power of the images. “It’s one thing to write about poverty and people who are trying to make ends meet,” says Corinne Dufka, associate director of Human Rights Watch and one of three judges. “But seeing pictures that tell that story is much more moving.”

The photos, says Dufka, communicate just how hard people work to support their families in developing countries.

Dufka and the two other judges selected “Paddy Cultivation” as the contest’s grand prizewinner. The shot is beautifully framed and captures a family laboring together on a mud-covered rice paddy in West Bengal, India. Each family member is muddied and ankle-deep in water but diligently hunched over the paddy working.

The second and third place winners were “Fishing with a Net” and “Hands for Freedom.”

The former captures a Chinese fisherman mid-toss with his fishing net; he will later go to the market to sell his catch. The latter depicts a teenage girl and her father sculpting clay pots for their family’s pottery business in India.

The father-daughter pottery scene particularly struck Dafka because of the joy it left viewers feeling. “You got a sense of the love between the family,” she explains.

That love, happiness and positivity can actually be seen in many of the photo submissions, Dafka adds. Instead of depicting their subjects in a pitiful light, photographers captured images of the resiliency of the working poor.

“We often think of labor in developing countries as something that’s laden with hard work and burden, but many of the submissions showed such beauty and joy,” Dufka says. “The images didn’t show people who are miserable, but people who are working very hard to make ends meet with the tremendous joy and help from their families or communities.”

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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