|It is a controversial photo, as someone pointed out. For me, its controversey lies in the the conflict between the intentions of the photographer and the effect of the photo. The intention to document a social problem in the hopes of changing it by raising awareness is a noble one. Would that were all to take such a photo every day, rather than just trying to please our own senses.|
But, the problem with the photo, for me, is that it takes the social problem and turns it into a conventionally palatable work of art, a beautiful object to be consumed. The boy, even though he is smoking, or perhaps because he is smoking, looks good to me. He looks radiant almost. He's glowing, he's wearing a mischeivous smile, he's got a limpid light in his eyes. If I look more closely I see he's wearing rags, his fingers are filthy, and, yes, he's smoking. But still, the overall impression I take from this is of a beauty. The beautiful colors, the gorgeous light, the skin tone, the proportions of the composition, the frank gaze of the child.
Okay, sure, one could say those things are ironic. Maybe. (I don't think that's your intention Shogun, but let's, for sake of argumentm, say it is.) Maybe it's ironic that we like the photo, that it pleases us visually, and that it is a photo of a wretched impoverished kid. Maybe it's a kind of trick photo, designed to trip us up and play with our expectations. That's a critical point of view, yes. But that is also primarily an intellectual point of view. It is an artistic point of view. It is not a point of view that inspires action.
I like this photo because it is a deft portrait of a beautiful kid that captures his humanity. That is what is great about it. And it is unassailable from that point of view.
But as a call to action about the plight of kids -- the desperate, urgent plight of imporverished kids in our world, in your country and mine -- I think it's a failure. It leaves me with no anxiety. It doesn't compel me to get out of my seat and say "enough." It doesn't show the ugliness that we need to see to shock us out of our complacency.
So, that's why I think this is a controversial photo.
Kids Gone Bad (64) *