The Ethics of Nudity in Poverty Photography?

When it comes to filming & photographing, I always try and learn from the professionals. I recently discovered superstar photographer “Joey L”. Joey’s worked with some big names (The Jonas Brothers, Usher, NBC, FX Network, Warner Music, and the Salvation Army).

Joey also travels to developing countries and photographs and films those living in poverty. Recently, he uploaded a video on his trip to visit the The Mentawai in rural Indonesia (WARNING: NOT SAFE FOR WORK):

The reason this video is not safe for work is because it shows full frontal nudity of children. I’m not trying to hate on Joey. In his defense, this is probably nothing more than you’d find in National Geographic Magazine. I’m sure the intention was documenting – not pornography.

But, this raises a question, what are the ethics of filming and photographing the poor in the nude? Is filming for charitable purposes different than filming for documentary purposes? Are the standards different for those living in the West vs. those living in developing countries?

From what I can tell of Joey’s work, that seems to be the case. In this video, he blurs and blocks out nudity of himself and his assistant as they bathe in a river – but does not do the same for any of the naked locals in the same scene (WARNING: ALSO NOT SAFE FOR WORK):

For me, I come from a very different perspective. Even if families are itching and eager to be on camera – if they are nude, I say no. Or, at the very least, frame it to protect privacy. This helps because when I team up with Save the Children, I’m in line with their policies and practices.

But the fact is, no matter how much care & consideration one takes in filming and photography, there is always going to be someone out there who thinks you’re grossly violating the rights and disrespecting your subjects.

On-the-ground I know that my paranoia of not filming nudity seems to foster respect among those I film & photograph. It also stems from the fact that I share a cultural ancestry with most of the people I try and help.

It’s for that reason, I’m not going to change how I do things. But, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – especially if there are any professional photographers and filmmakers out there reading this.

11 Responses to “The Ethics of Nudity in Poverty Photography?”


  1. 1 Sandy Wood

    Hi Shawn,
    great commentary. I think the topic you identified of respect is key. This loosely relates to an article I read in my geography class a few months ago that I keep thinking about, and which tied in a lot that I have been thinking about in general about how I personally do fundraising, and how the ‘Third World’ is conceptualized in the West. If you haven’t read it, you might find it interesting. “The Invisible Violence of Celebrity Humanitarianism: Soft Images and Hard Words in the Making and Unmaking of Africa” by Riina Yrjola.
    But basically, I feel like portraying poor subjects naked in a way objectifies them, for us to project our preconceptions onto, and kind of look down upon, in a subtle, subconscious but paternalistic kind of way. It makes them more like animals or blends them into the environment instead of emphasizing their individuality, independence, and strength.
    Thanks for the thoughts and starting this discussion

  2. 2 Sandy Wood

    Hi Shawn,
    great commentary. I think the topic you identified of respect is key. This loosely relates to an article I read in my geography class a few months ago that I keep thinking about, and which tied in a lot that I have been thinking about in general about how I personally do fundraising, and how the ‘Third World’ is conceptualized in the West. If you haven’t read it, you might find it interesting. “The Invisible Violence of Celebrity Humanitarianism: Soft Images and Hard Words in the Making and Unmaking of Africa” by Riina Yrjola.
    But basically, I feel like portraying poor subjects naked in a way objectifies them, for us to project our preconceptions onto, and kind of look down upon, in a subtle, subconscious but paternalistic kind of way. It makes them more like animals or blends them into the environment instead of emphasizing their individuality, independence, and strength.
    Thanks for the thoughts and starting this discussion

  3. 3 Loriloveland

    There is clearly a tremendous amount of hair product being used by Joey L and that is somewhat ridiculous given the amount of energy it must have taken to accomplish…sorry got distracted.

    But seriously. You raise an important point and not just one of nudity.

    This type of film, or that of a different type of film for fundraising, would generally be meant for “Western” viewing. Merging this audience with another culture that (generalizing here) we Westerners most likely know little to nothing about or if we do may have preconceived ideas must be daunting. It appears to me that the motives are pure, images were for documentary/culture sharing purposes. But I feel the purpose is defeated when images-even in a perceived “small way”-further separate our understanding. Albeit based on our own preconceived “Western” stereotypes. This type of nudity further’s a thinking that doesn’t help bring our communities together and isn’t that the idea? Or maybe it isn’t. Are we just observing like some social experiment? If not. Why did they blur their images out? Why separate? That bothers me.

    Knowing what we do about nudity and child pornographers I don’t feel there is a reason to show full nudity of a child, not even for documentary purposes. Photography and artistic/documentary merits aside this is about respect and again we aren’t just talking about one culture, this is presented to our “culture.” We know that these images can be perceived differently and even exploited. We would not want our children’s images used in this manner. Why would it be okay for me to show a “friend’s” child instead? If parents in the film above were fully aware of the potential use of images would they have agreed to their child being filmed?

  4. 4 Loriloveland

    There is clearly a tremendous amount of hair product being used by Joey L and that is somewhat ridiculous given the amount of energy it must have taken to accomplish…sorry got distracted.

    But seriously. You raise an important point and not just one of nudity.

    This type of film, or that of a different type of film for fundraising, would generally be meant for “Western” viewing. Merging this audience with another culture that (generalizing here) we Westerners most likely know little to nothing about or if we do may have preconceived ideas must be daunting. It appears to me that the motives are pure, images were for documentary/culture sharing purposes. But I feel the purpose is defeated when images-even in a perceived “small way”-further separate our understanding. Albeit based on our own preconceived “Western” stereotypes. This type of nudity further’s a thinking that doesn’t help bring our communities together and isn’t that the idea? Or maybe it isn’t. Are we just observing like some social experiment? If not. Why did they blur their images out? Why separate? That bothers me.

    Knowing what we do about nudity and child pornographers I don’t feel there is a reason to show full nudity of a child, not even for documentary purposes. Photography and artistic/documentary merits aside this is about respect and again we aren’t just talking about one culture, this is presented to our “culture.” We know that these images can be perceived differently and even exploited. We would not want our children’s images used in this manner. Why would it be okay for me to show a “friend’s” child instead? If parents in the film above were fully aware of the potential use of images would they have agreed to their child being filmed?

  5. 5 Kahlin

    I think your approach to this dilemma is appropriate, Shawn, given the circumstances. Respect is the best way forward.

    I think it’s pretty interesting, though, that it is both the photographer’s approach as well as the viewer’s gaze that potentially frames these kinds of images as either “safe” or as “pornography” or as “offensive.” This has nothing to do with any kind of “primitivity” on the part of the subject but rather more to do with the social codes of the viewer. I’m not a nudist, but I am inclined to think that the west would do well to work towards breaking down taboos around nudity (a rant that would require more discussion than this forum may allow). As Loriloveland points out, our preconceptions largely shape how we interpret the world around us.

    question 1: how would we feel if Joey L did not blur out his own nuddy-bits?

    question 2: (maybe Sandy Wood could chime in here, too) Are there any sources out there that discuss respectful photography practices?

  6. 6 Kahlin

    I think your approach to this dilemma is appropriate, Shawn, given the circumstances. Respect is the best way forward.

    I think it’s pretty interesting, though, that it is both the photographer’s approach as well as the viewer’s gaze that potentially frames these kinds of images as either “safe” or as “pornography” or as “offensive.” This has nothing to do with any kind of “primitivity” on the part of the subject but rather more to do with the social codes of the viewer. I’m not a nudist, but I am inclined to think that the west would do well to work towards breaking down taboos around nudity (a rant that would require more discussion than this forum may allow). As Loriloveland points out, our preconceptions largely shape how we interpret the world around us.

    question 1: how would we feel if Joey L did not blur out his own nuddy-bits?

    question 2: (maybe Sandy Wood could chime in here, too) Are there any sources out there that discuss respectful photography practices?

  7. 7 Shawn

    Hi Kahlin – that’s weird, I thought I replied to your comment a long time ago. Here are my responses:

    Answer to Question One: I applaud Joey’s decision to blur himself and keep him decent. All I’d ask is that he value the same of his subjects. If he didn’t blur out anything – we could argue he’s treating everyone equally and simply exercising poor judgement. As is, he has a double-standard.

    Answer to Question Two: I know UNICEF has a protocol packet on photography procedures. Most charities do. Though it’s usually internal stuff. There really needs to be a public set of procedures and guidelines.

  8. 8 Shawn

    Hi Kahlin – that’s weird, I thought I replied to your comment a long time ago. Here are my responses:

    Answer to Question One: I applaud Joey’s decision to blur himself and keep him decent. All I’d ask is that he value the same of his subjects. If he didn’t blur out anything – we could argue he’s treating everyone equally and simply exercising poor judgement. As is, he has a double-standard.

    Answer to Question Two: I know UNICEF has a protocol packet on photography procedures. Most charities do. Though it’s usually internal stuff. There really needs to be a public set of procedures and guidelines.

  9. 9 Sjonnie Preece Jr.

    The song at the end “Welcome to the limit” really makes a strong part of the conclusion of the clip.

  10. 10 Sjonnie Preece Jr.

    The song at the end “Welcome to the limit” really makes a strong part of the conclusion of the clip.

  11. 11 poin4d.com

    Bonus FreeBet
    Bagi-bagi Freebet setiap harinya, syaratnya sangatlah mudah :
    – Member harus deposit minimal Rp 20.000 dan bermain minimal Rp 10.000 dipasaran

    Hadiah : Bagi member yang beruntung mendapatkan 5rb (freebet) pada setiap harinya ( akan diundi hanya 10 member saja )
    – Hitungan bonus Freebet diberikan pada jam 12:00
    – Harus melakukan klaim bonus kepada CS kami
    – Promo berakhir pada tanggal 31 Desember 2016
    – Contoh pembagian Bonus, Jika hari ini anda sudah melakukan bettingan maka besok pada jam 12:00 anda lakukan pengklaiman bonus kepada pihak CS kami.
    www,poin4d,com

    Bonus Loyalitas (permanen)
    – Bagi member kami yang sudah mendaftar ataupun belum harap untuk chat CS kami dan meminta Kode unik kepada CS kami
    – Member harus Deposit setiap harinya minimal 20rb dan Bermain minimal 10rb di pasaran
    – Member yang setiap harinya Deposit akan mendapatkan Poin Loyal dan proses Claim Poin harus berturut-turut deposit dan apabila terjadi miss deposit maka akan di reset dari awal kembali
    – Claim bisa di lakukan berdasarkan Level pada tabel yang tertera
    – Member yang sudah Menerima Hadiah akan di reset kembali.
    – Klaim harus menyertakan KODE UNIK yang di berikan CS.

    Hadiah : Deposit 10 Hari Berturut-turut – 5 RB
    Hadiah : Deposit 20 Hari Berturut-turut – 20 RB
    Hadiah : Deposit 30 Hari Berturut-turut – 50 RB
    Hadiah : Deposit 200 Hari Berturut-turut – 500 RB
    bandar Togel online terpercaya di indonesia

  1. 1 Global Voices in English » Bangladesh: One Child to Rebuild a School

Leave a Reply