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Photographer Asks Starving Children to Dream of Food for Conceptual Project

Italian photographer Alessio Mamo is sparking controversy online after World Press Photo showcased his latest series, “Dreaming Food.” The series is a “conceptual project” about the amount of food wasted in the Western world. 

World Press Photo Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Amsterdam, known for holding an annual photography contest. Alessio Mamo came in second in the People Singles category in the 2018 awards for his photo of an eleven-year-old victim of a missile explosion in Iraq. Mamo took over the World Press Photo Instagram account for the week and talked about the start of his photojournalism career when he focused on “contemporary social, political, and economic issues.” He continued to spotlight his latest series, “Dreaming Food.”

Of his concept, he explained:

Despite economic growth, a majority of the Indian population still lives in extreme poverty and disease. Behind India’s newfound economic strength are 300 million poor people who live on less than $1 per day. Government figures may indicate a reduction in poverty. But the truth is, with increasing global food prices, poverty is spreading everywhere like a swarm of locusts.

These pictures are taken in rural areas where conditions are worse than in cities and where close to 70 percent of India’s population reside today. Statistics show that 2.1 million children under 5 years old die of malnutrition annually. The idea of this project was born after reading the statistics of how much food is thrown away in the West, especially during Christmastime. 

I brought with me a table and some fake food, and I told people to dream about some food that they would like to find on their table.

Mamo’s series has caused some uproar online. While his series effectively captures the horrifying conditions that a majority of India and many other poverty-stricken areas populations endure, people believe “Dreaming Food” crosses the line of photojournalism to being purely exploitative. Many people online have also called the concept gimmicky and went as far as to say it is “poverty porn.”

While the series could have been an artful and conceptual way to shine a light on poverty, I personally think Mamo crossed the line when schlepping a table and plastic food props to impoverished areas for a photo opportunity. There could have been so much good to be done with a simple change in the concept: Bring. Real. Food.

After doing the amount of research he claims to have done, rather than thinking of ways to effectively torment the population, let alone children, bring change to the area you're visiting. Modify your concept to truly highlight what you've set out to do. Interview the impoverished, take your concept and teach others about what's going on in these areas instead of exploiting and asking them to dream about the food they will likely never get. Many journalists have spoken out:

World Press Photo has since released a statement of their own, mentioning that the debates and problems that arise from each winner and post are under constant review to learn from. Read more of their statement here

What do you think of the series? Conceptual or exploitative? What do you feel he could have done differently to elicit the response he said he intended? Sound off below and let us know what you think. 

Lead image by Nischal Masand on Unsplash, used under Creative Commons.

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saskia vaughan's picture

To me this type of project is not productive. It does not do anything to remedy poverty or hunger. The fact that one in the third world is so aware of the waste of food in the western world merely creates anger. Even if this was real food, it would be cruel because it is just one meal.

Josean Rosario's picture

I would agree but can you pay them with more than just the one meal your using them for? Like bring real food and more food if you're gonna have free models for your project

Deleted Account's picture

So we can all wring our hands instead of rolling up our sleeves. smh

Deleted Account's picture

But do they?

Lou Bragg's picture

Simply atrocious!!!

Deleted Account's picture

Bring food! Agree 100%

tripbeetle's picture

This photograph is one of a few dozen this photographer put up on the WorldPressPhoto Instagram account during the week he was "in charge" of it. Judging by his other photos, I think he probably does have a heart and is passionate about showing the faces of the ignored. But, for a professional, he doesn't take outstanding photos. He's no W. Eugene Smith. So, this one photo that's earned him notoriety is probably a product of naivety and lack of sophistication rather than arrogance.

Deleted Account's picture

"He's no W. Eugene Smith." I think we can forgive him for that. :-)

iris-imaging's picture

The most legitimate critics of Mr. Mamo more than likely do not have Instagram accounts. How do they feel about helping his career? Props in photojournalism not sure photo-illustration definitely. If you photograph the subjects Mr. Mamo has chosen critics are guaranteed comes with the turf.

Paulo Macedo's picture

So, you went there and "I brought with me a table and some fake food".
I bet that fake taste was faking delicious and those kids had the fakest feast of their lifes..

This is discusting to say the least.

Deleted Account's picture

Why couldn’t he have given food to these kids instead of bringing fake food and taunting them for an image? Seems unnecessarily cruel.