Faces of world poverty: 20 arresting photographs

What do we picture when we think about poverty? What stereotypes do we have about what poverty looks like? What do they mask from us? What do they keep us from seeing?

While putting together my two main posts for Blog Action Day, I came across a number of arresting photographs depicting poverty around the world. It became clear to me that poverty takes many forms — poverty has many faces. These are a few of them.

Each of these photos is from Flickr, and has been tagged by the photographer as depicting “poor” or “poverty” or “homeless”. Click an image to learn more about it.


Tijuana, Mexico (photo by TJ Scenes)

 


Mumbai, India (photo by Babasteve)

 


Angkor, Cambodia (photo by Youngsixta)

 

Kirovsky, Russia (photo by kr4gin)

 


Madrid, Spain (photo by Kindgott)

 


China (photo by Jonny Keelty)

 


Mangua, Nicaragua (photo by Vintage Chica)

 


Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. (photo by J.D. Roth)

 

Moramnanga, Madagascar (photo by Jonathan Talbot, World Resources Institute)

 


Colombo, Sri Lanka (photo by Gerry Popplestone)

 


Nairobi, Kenya (photo by Angela7Dreams)

 


Tonghua, China (photo by Rivard)

 

Amman, Jordan (photo by Alazaat)

 


Tokyo, Japan (photo by ThisParticularGreg)

 


Calcutta, India (photo by Rita Banerji)

 


Tel-Aviv, Israel (photo by Nicasaurusrex)

 


Kabul, Afghanistan (photo by Afghan LORD)

 

Titicachi, Bolivia (photo by Johannes Roith)

 


Cork City, Ireland (photo by Dogfrog)

 


Sydney, Australia (photo by Charlie Brewer)

 

Today is Blog Action Day. The topic this year is poverty. This is the third of three posts about the subject today at Get Rich Slowly.

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Cap
Cap

Great collection JD. Thanks for finding and posting…

kick_push
kick_push

amazing pictures..

Farbie
Farbie

A lot of these people didn’t look poor or unhappy.

Frugal Bachelor
Frugal Bachelor

These pictures are amazing, awesome collection. Thanks. I have visited all of these places except for three. What I don’t understand is how after viewing these pictures you can still say that you think of yourself as “poor” (currently, or in the past). How can you possibly compare your current situation (or your upbringing) to any of these? Honestly, I feel it is very demeaning.

CreditMattersBlog.com
CreditMattersBlog.com

J.D., great pictures. I grew up just north of Tijuana — in San Diego. Your picture of the person in Tijuana struck a chord with me.

My favorite picture, though, is the one of the kid in the recepticle — in Cambodia. Truly captures the essence of what you’re talking about.

Keep up the great work here at Getrichslowly.

Alan
Alan

J.D. –

Thank you for keeping these images diverse. Too many people associate poverty – especially in imagery – with Africa and Asia. I found the geography of these photographs just as intriguing and surprising as the subject matter.

Alan

J.D.
J.D.

@Frugal Bachelor I’m with you until that last sentence. You’re right — my experience doesn’t compare to the experience of these people. But my family *was* poor relative to its peers, and that mindset has stuck with me. We weren’t the poorest family in our community, and I cannot relate to the experience of the people in the photographs I’ve found. But that doesn’t mean my own experience isn’t valid, or that I’m demeaning anyone. It’s not a contest. There are no winners with poverty. I will say, though, that finding these photographs *did* make me think, made me realize… Read more »

tiffany
tiffany

I know what the person meant about comparing himself to the poor in these pics, and how some of us shouldn’t. I was poor too. In fact I’ve been homeless, but I rarely went hungry, I often found shelter, and I could always go to the emergency room if I needed help with a medical emergency. Most people don’t have that. When I was younger I went through a phase of feeling sorry for myself. Now I don’t feel like I have the right to. I have had so much to be thankful for.

RT
RT

The comment on poverty and happiness is an interesting one to me. My brother spent a number of years living with the gypsies of Serbia. Part of his goal was to help individuals attain micro-loans available through the EU. The people he lived / worked with were desperately poor (living in tin huts, no running water, no regular source of food). But one of the things that he found absolutely amazing (and somewhat life changing for him) was that they were overall much happier than middle America / Europe.

Charlotte
Charlotte

RT and ALL,

I agree that overall, people in poor countries are happier. I grew up in a third world country and all my life I was generally happy because I was surrounded by family and friends. Here in the US, more and more we are turning to material things to find happiness. We move so much, we don’t get to spend more time with family and friends.

chump
chump

RT: Ive heard that too. I was watching a documentary a couple months ago were the director made the same comment. He said the poorest areas of different societies always seemed happier than the wealthy groups from the same societies.

J.D.
J.D.

I, too, think the discussion about poverty and happiness is interesting. It’s one we’ve had a couple of times before here. A few months ago, GRS reader Saravanan P shared a guest post asking, is it more important to be rich or to be happy? He says that’s a question only a rich person can ask.

plonkee
plonkee

People with a strong and vibrant culture and society are often happier regardless of whether they are materially rich. But poverty is life threatening, and if you have little room for manouevre it doesn’t take much bad luck for happiness to turn to despair.

Tim
Tim

poverty is relative and peering through our lenses is very problematic, not to mention the lens of the person behind the camera lens. case in point: i’m sure many of you wouldn’t think twice of giving $1 to any of the people in the photos if you walked past them and they were begging. Because we don’t think about economies of scale or relativeness in doing so. $1 doesn’t get you much in the US, but $1 stretches far in other places (i.e. cost of living). Would they all be poor in the US? Most assuredly. Would they be poor… Read more »

Jane
Jane

If you haven’t already, you or your readers might be interested to read Alain de Botton’s book, Status Anxiety. In it, he discusses how attitudes to the poor have changed over the centuries, and how this affects the way we (as members of society) feel about ourselves.

His other book, The Consolations of Philosophy, also discusses what philosophy has to say about ‘Not Having Enough Money.’

(Sorry, I don’t know how to do italics or fancy links!)

http://www.amazon.com/Status-Anxiety-Alain-Botton/dp/0375420835

http://www.amazon.com/Consolations-Philosophy-Alain-Botton/dp/0679779175/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1224153618&sr=1-1

Chad @ Sentient Money
Chad @ Sentient Money

I always wonder if the “poor are happier than the rich” scenario is just a way to make everyone feel better about themselves. I know I wouldn’t be happy to live like that. Not that I need a BMW or a big house, but living in squalor can not be good for ones psyche.

Also, a lot of self-made people are very very driven, and that generally isn’t a recipe for overt displays of happiness. This doesn’t mean they aren’t happy, just that they won’t show it as much.

Tim
Tim

@Chad: see that is where your conditioned life comes into play in relative terms. If you live a life without knowing about bmw and big houses, then it isn’t a squalor is it? If you don’t know about xbox 360 or it is outside your purview, you play with tires or sticks, and is that bad for your psyche? don’t think so. it’s bad for “your” psyche, but not for their psyche.

Fish Finder
Fish Finder

Having travelled a decent portion of the world in the US Navy, I can tell you there is a distinct difference between the poor, the poverty stricken and the destitute. Here in the US the “poor” still have cars and cell phones. The poverty stricken don’t have these things but generally have a place to stay, old clothes to wear and enough to eat most of the time. The destitute mostly live in third world countries and have nothing and no hope. So, pick a worthy cause and give. After all, we are all rich, we can afford computers. Thanks… Read more »

Funny about Money
Funny about Money

Sorry, but I just can’t agree that “poor people are happier.” I grew up in Saudi Arabia, amid scenes that make some of the situations pictured here look affluent. And lemme tellya: those were not overall happy people. That a group of people do not labor under the specific set of stresses and annoyances that afflict others in “developed” cultures does not mean they are free of stress and unhappiness. On the other hand, it’s hard not to question whether all of these photos actually depict poverty. The little child in China, for example, is a bit dirty (have any… Read more »

Mr.Nate
Mr.Nate

my response is very small, but I try to give both locally and internationally.
When I go shopping I buy an extra bag of rice and give it to the local food bank, then occasionally I try send whatever I’ve spent on rice to
http://www.riceraiser.org
where my donations buy rice for impoverished people around the world.
Even though my contributions are very small, I sleep better at night and can rationalize not giving money in certain situations like those discussed in yesterday’s post.

Seth
Seth

I don’t find many of these arresting at all. I also think I could probably recreate most of these in one day in New York so the round-the-world thing is a bit lost on me.

Anyhow, it’s good to remember how fortunate we are but let’s try not to pity everyone too much. If they have a loving family they probably don’t mind that they can’t afford an iPhone.

Jared
Jared

Some of these aren’t about poverty — they’re about homelessness. those are two different issues, with different root causes and they require different solutions.

MJ
MJ

I know that picture from Oregon was taken by J.D., but with all due respect, I don’t think that picture captures poverty at all. I don’t know if the guy in the picture is homeless. Assuming that he is, his cats (and the man for that matter) look well-groomed and fed. How is poverty defined in that picture?

J.D.
J.D.

MJ wrote: I know that picture from Oregon was taken by J.D., but with all due respect, I don’t think that picture captures poverty at all. Ah, yes. The troublesome “U.S.A.” photo. As most of you probably noticed, I tried to select photos from diverse geographical regions. Curiously, there aren’t many Flickr photos from the U.S. tagged with “poor” or “poverty”, though there are many tagged with “homeless”. (By the way — I see what you all mean about there being a difference between homeless and poverty, but I’m not sure what that difference is. To me, homeless is a… Read more »

Kristina
Kristina

All of us would do well to stop calling ourselves “poor” or thinking of ourselves as “poor” if our basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, etc are being met. I don’t care if you felt poor or feel poor compared to others in your neighborhood. That doesn’t make you poor. Half of America thinks it’s poor because they have a little less than people around them who have way, way too much. Additionally, there are different types of poverty and not all of them need to be cured. Some forms of poverty mean that people are going without food… Read more »

Moneyblogga
Moneyblogga

Very powerful photographs. One job loss and – boom! – this could be any one of us. @Kristina – Very good points! @J.D. – I agree with your wife’s opinion. The pic of the woman with the dogs has “something” else going on with it. There seems to be a real attitude of cockiness and defiance, I don’t know. The woman in the pic reminds me of the attitudes I frequently ran across with my attempts to rent to low income types over the past 3 years. There is something about that pic that gets my back up. I prefer… Read more »

plonkee
plonkee

Am I right in thinking that Tijuana really isn’t very far from the US border?

It’s amazing the difference a few miles and an accident of history can make in what poverty looks like.

Saravanan
Saravanan

Wow J.D.,

Great collection of pictures. Poverty as you rightly said has many forms. The one that I hate is “Not having enough medications to survive”. People die of curable and preventable diseases. I wish every person on earth gets enough medication so that they don’t die because of diseases.

Jim
Jim
Its no surprise JD had a tough time finding a ‘good’ picture of poverty in the US. Its pretty hard to find poverty in the USA that compares to that seen in the 3rd world. The situations just don’t compare. Thats a good point to take away here.

Plonkee, yes Tijuana is just across the border from the USA south of San Diego.

Jim

Deb
Deb

My first exposure to utter third world poverty came when I was serving in the military and was assigned to a base in the Philippines. As I moved into my off base house, local Filipinos rapidly absconded with my abandoned moving boxes. I was perplexed. Then I discovered that those cardboard boxes were used to make shelters for homeless, poverty stricken families. It made me feel sick to my stomach. During my first 6 months in the PI, I felt overwhelmingly guilty about my fortunate position in life as opposed to those all around me who were scrambling to survive.… Read more »

Martacus
Martacus

Seeing these pictures reminds me of an incident that occurred during my post-high school trip to Spain about ten years back. Now, I had seen a good number of homeless people during the trip, and had given some spare pesetas to a few–no harm came of it–but in one city we visited, I noticed a homeless man sitting up near the wall on the opposite side of an alley we were walking up. From the rear, he didn’t appear much different from many of the others I had seen. As we got closer, I could tell there seemed to be… Read more »

CoolProducts
CoolProducts

To Martacus in the post above me. That’s rough man. At least you were of an age able to somewhat come to grip with what you had seen. My experience was in third grade when I temporarily moved to a city in Mexico called Cuernavaca, about a 2 hour drive through the winding mountains south of Mexico City. This town is beautiful and if you are able to look in the right places behind the vast walls, you will find the most beautiful palaces in the world; a city of extreme wealth and extreme poverty with little inbetween. The first… Read more »

jc
jc

Jim- We don’t have to go that far to find that type of third world poverty in this country. Just go deep within the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky and West Virginia and you will see tin shacks and starving children.
I made a commitment to support one of those children down there and hope that may contribution is making at least a slight difference in that little girls life.

Em.
Em.

The holiday season always reminds me to blog about privilege and gratitude, so I included this post in my Link-tastic Xmas round-up this year. Thanks for it. It moves me every time.

http://jesuisreconnaissant.blogspot.com/2008/12/its-beginning-to-look-like-link-tastic.html

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