Manilla Slums and Ethics. Ten things to think about…

In street photography there is a tradition of taking pictures of poverty, this stems from the very beginnings with the work of Henry Cartier-Bresson and Dorothea Lange. Recently I had a break in the Philippines. My first thoughts were to head for the slums of Manilla to take some shots. I did find myself wondering why I was there, after all, I was close to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

This raised a the question, why do I go and photograph areas of poverty? Here are ten issues to think about…. click to read more!

  1. Accessibility. In areas of dire poverty, people live on the streets. This makes them ideal for authentic photography. You catch everything, from people cooking their dinner to cleaning their teeth.
  2. Exploitation.  We ‘take’ photographs and this in turn can be viewed as exploitation. What can we, as photographers, give back?
  3. Happiness. I once read an article that workers in the dumps of Bangladesh have some of the highest indicators of being happy. This leads to beautiful contrasts within the frame and places a question in the viewers head.
  4. Danger. Watch McCullin, a movie on the war photographer of the same name. He talks of the addiction to danger. Without doubt I love the danger of some of the rougher places I shoot. Just not as dangerous as a war zone!
  5. Proximity. This is similar to the first point. The people you shoot are close by and not afforded the privacy of the wealthy.
  6. Emotions. Good photography embraces emotion. If a photo makes someone angry and causes them to act, or widen their point of view, then the photo has done its job.
  7. Viewpoint. It took a change in my thinking to accept that a photo is someones point of view. Be careful how you portray an area. This is perhaps an issue of which I am guilty, I would hate people to think my street photography was what all of China looks like.
  8. Keep it real. I don’t think street photographs should be overly processed. Yes, I do use Photoshop, but I try not to edit a shot in such a way as to make the situation look different to what it actually was.
  9. Kids. You can take pictures of kids playing. They look happy and make for great photos. Try this in a modern city playground and you would get chased out of town ASAP.
  10. Famous Examples. Henry Cartier-Bresson, most of you will have studied this photographer. If not, do it now. Google is your friend. Dorothea Lange captured much of the American depression. Her most famous photo is ‘Migrant Woman’. Check it out, come back to me and make a comment.


Anyway, here are some pics from my journey into the slums of Manilla.


Have fun and keep clicking! Chris


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3 Comments on “Manilla Slums and Ethics. Ten things to think about…

  1. Good article Chris. Portraying predominantly poverty in most countries is regarded as an affront.  It’s important to show a balance .  Certainly something I have to remind myself of. XXX

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A thoughtful blog Chris. Some thing I have often reminded myself of. I have certainly come across folk in my travels who resent the fact that photographers focus on the poor. I sometimes try to capture both rich and poor in one photo to show the counterpoint. Xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Chris
    Recently I went somewhere on an assignment, to write articles for something but during free time I went out to the streets and take pictures of some poor people, I even interviewed them and currently getting ready to write something unusual than what I am doing all this while… while I am about to do that, I read what you wrote….Exploitation. We ‘take’ photographs and this in turn can be viewed as exploitation. What can we, as photographers, give back? anh I said to myself ohhh ohhh


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