On reflecting how best to write this article, stark images filled my mind of scenes in the Karwan Bazar Slum of Dhaka, in particular the eyes of a child, who stood on the railway tracks, staring at me with dull eyes that reflected both curiosity and hopelessness. It is not easy to write about such sights and total misery it conjures up. The picture is painfully clear – of huge numbers of people of the lowest social class, living on the edge of survival, crammed into small shacks made of whatever waste materials are at hand, without clean water or electricity. I am tempted to overload you some stunning statistics and details copied from the internet, but instead, I offer you but one, it is this; the World Bank report of 2007, states that almost half of the twelve million people of Dhaka live in slums. Yes! That is six million. That was in 2007. The situation has since worsened.
In this part of the photo-essay I want to share some of my thoughts regarding the ethics in photographing people from slums, it is also a widely discussed topic in public forums. There is a similar on-going debate regarding tourist companies who advertise so-called ‘poverty tours’, they charge for one-day or hourly visits to slums. I consider these travel organisations with great distain; that they should organize such tours to these places for profit is abominable, regardless of their declarations to give part of their profits to improve the living conditions in the slums. I feel that real help can only come from disseminating the plight of these people by visits from journalists, photojournalists, documentary filmmakers, foreign aid workers and others who can influence governments and aid agencies around the world.
If, as a photographer you wish to visit these places, then do so only if you intend to use your material to write and publish about what you have seen to maximum effect. I would consider this as something useful. If not then please stay away- there are plenty of other subjects to photograph.
The important thing when visiting there is for you to have a guide and to concentrate not on taking photographs, but in talking to people, listen to their stories at first-hand and then briefly photograph them and immediately put your camera away. Despite the noble reason for your visit as a documentary photographer, you are from the other side of life, a wonderfully lucky person indeed. They on the other hand are trapped in the mud - literally. Please have respect for them. Then show your pictures to maximum effect and tell your dramatic story. It is important to share and help people to understand the hopelessness that these people face on a daily basis.