One for the World Presents Poverty in Photography

Cate McCusker Staff Writer

On Monday night November 4th, students gathered in Bartley Hall to hear Michael T. Middleton’s presentation titled “Poverty: Lessons Learned from Photography.” Presented by the One for the World Villanova Club, Middleton’s presentation explained how poverty is depicted in photography and what the average person can do about it.

Founded in 2014 by two MBAs at The Wharton School, One for the World is a movement encouraging students and young professionals to change the way they give back. This movement encourages young people to make “the pledge” to donate 1% of their future income to charity. Since 2014, this movement has spread to many college campuses across the country, including Villanova. Chapter president Grayson Kisker set up this presentation to help educate Villanova students on how you can help those in need.

Middleton, a photographer among other things, has been putting on this presentation for eleven years. His main goal with the presentation is to educate people about poverty in photography, because it has never been easier for people to document an event. With today’s technology, many people have access to a camera at all times. 

“There is an unusual amount of power in everyday people who can control the way the world is able to see events” Middleton stressed.

Using different images from the past few decades, Middleton explained the progression of how poverty is expressed in the media. First, Middleton displayed photos taken by NGOs, or nonprofit organizations, of people dressed poorly, in devastated areas and with unhappy facial expressions. Then he showed images of the same people the way they normally looked, well dressed and smiling. Middleton explained to the shocked room that in order to encourage the NGOs to return to their community and help them, many people would dress the part they knew would grab the photographer’s attention. However, after a while, the constant images of depression turned donors away. They felt as if their money was not helping. This changed the way poverty was photographed. Instead of depressed people, they photographed children playing or people happily working. Middleton explained that many photographs of poverty, although taken of people who actually needed help, were most often staged.

Middleton also explained how the setting, angle and color of a picture increased its effect on the audience. He displayed several pictures of starving children, noting the similarities in each one. The camera angle is facing down, the child is looking up at the viewer, and the photo is often in black and white, emphasizing the depressed state of the child.

Before finishing the presentation, Middleton gave the audience an interesting tip on how to take the best pictures. 

“Yes, people love reflections, landscapes, fog, symmetry and fuzzy animals. But people love stuff that’s ruined,” Middleton stated. 

Photographing dilapidated buildings or depressed communities allows the audience to get sucked in emotionally and they then begin to write stories in their head.

Middleton then opened up the floor for students to ask questions. Many wanted to know about his career experience, how poverty affected photographers emotionally and what they could do to help the problem. After all questions were answered, and the presentation was finished, Middleton left the students with this message, “You can do something right now and with your career, and I really sincerely hope you do.”