Alessio Mamo, the Italian photographer whose “Dreaming Food” series on hunger in India has invited a flood of criticism for its depiction of poverty, on Tuesday issued a statement explaining his intention behind the project and apologised to “anyone who felt offended and hurt”.
The photos, shared on the World Press Photo’s Instagram account on Sunday, were set in villages in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. A series of poor people, including children, were photographed in front of a table of food, with their hands covering their faces. In the caption, Mamo said he had “brought...a table and some fake food, and...told people to dream about some food that they would like to find on their table”. There was a strong backlash against the photographs on social media, including from photojournalists, with many contending that Mamo’s depiction of poverty was exploitative and built on stereotypes about India.
Mamo, who had won a World Press Photo of the Year Award this year, had been handling the foundation’s Instagram account for a week. He clarified that the photo series had not been commissioned by World Press Photo Foundation and was an independent project.
In his statement, Mamo said that the idea was to highlight the wastage of food in the West. “The only goal of the concept was to let western people think, in a provocative way, about the waste of food,” he said. “Maybe it did not work at all, maybe I did it in the wrong way, but I worked honestly and respectfully with all the people involved. I only had the intention to let people think about this issue.”
He added, “I’m a human being and I can make mistakes. I want to offer my deepest apologies to anyone who felt offended and hurt by this photos, and to the people I photographed. It was not my intention at all to discredit them. I’m in love with India and with the people. I’m always open to be criticised in my work, but I have never in my life felt hate like the comments directed at me in recent days.”
Here is the full statement:
“Dreaming Food” is a project I developed independently in 2011. It was one of my first photographic projects of my career. At that time I was obsessed by the food thrown away especially in Christmas time. So I thought to develop a project about this issue but in a different way. The idea was to create a contrast between a typical Western table with luxurious food in a poor context that could emphasize this contrast. I was in touch with an Indian organization, that I supported economically later (I will not mention them in order to protect them and their work) who helped me logistically to develop the project. They are present in the north and working for years fighting discrimination especially against women, Dalit and vulnerable people, and supporting them in many levels. Their work is recognized worldwide. So when I went to India for my second time in 2011, together we went to the places of the pictures. Anytime we went into villages we used to spend time meeting people, speaking with them and eating together. After I explained the idea of the project and found the volunteers we prepared our set. Most of the people enjoyed spontaneously to be part of this and photographed behind the table. The people I photographed were living in a village and they were not suffering from malnutrition anymore, they were not hungry or sick, and they freely participated in the project.
I never published this series in a magazine but this work received the “Coup de cœur” at the International Festival of Photojournalism Visa pour l’Image 2012 (Perpignan, France) where it was shown, exhibited at the Delhi Photo Festival in 2013, and in Paris in 2014 I was invited by the staff of La Quatrieme Image to exhibit this photos series. I never received any award or money for this.
The only goal of the concept was to let western people think, in a provocative way, about the waste of food. Maybe it did not work at all, maybe I did it in the wrong way, but I worked honestly and respectfully with all the people involved. I only had the intention to let people think about this issue.
I’m a human being and I can make mistakes. I want to offer my deepest apologies to anyone who felt offended and hurt by this photos, and to the people I photographed. It was not my intention at all to discredit them. I’m in love with India and with the people. I’m always open to be criticised in my work, but I have never in my life felt hate like the comments directed at me in recent days.
On Monday evening, World Press Photo had released a statement on the controversy, explaining its arrangement with winners of some of its contests who are allowed to take over the Instagram feed and share works of their choice. It shared the guidelines it gives to photographers for this period, and said, “Being a platform we do not limit photographer’s choices beyond the guidelines provided, and we ask the photographers to respond directly to the audience when questions arise.”
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