'Poverty Porn' - Interview
Photographer Reatile Moalusi talks to Pretoria based Dewald Pretorius about his on-going series – poverty porn. The conversation highlights specific notions with regards to the role and contribution of photographer’s when it comes to identity, representation, space and activism within in photographic practice.

R: When did your journey with Photography begin?

D: I started photography last year in September 2018, most of my photographs were shot on a Canon 700D DSLR with a kit lens as I didn’t know any better. Today, for my street photography I shoot on a Sony Mirrorless using a 50mm lens 1.4. I find this works best as I am a little bit more inconspicuous, the camera does not attract too much attention.

R: The narrative you chose is'Poverty Porn?', with a question mark. I imagine the title is not absolute? What exactly are you saying with reference to the title of your project?

D: I’ve been attacked numerous times on social media for using the topic ‘Poverty Porn’, people saying that I am exploiting the people in the photograph. In actual fact, in reality it is quite completely the opposite. How I understand ‘Poverty Porn’ – its when you capture images of poor people using any form of media for your own personal gain. These photographs are not for personal gain or intended to exploit anyone; instead, the idea is to provide a perspective on what is actually happening in the streets of the city that we live in. None of the images are for sale and I do not intend on making them for sale. Yes I captured the images, yes I printed them, however I don’t believe that these images are mine hence why I don’t plan on selling them. I feel that a lot of photographers in the media industry would go out looking for the most ‘gut wrenching’ photograph of poor people living in the streets – to place on the front cover of a paper or magazine in order to increase sales.

R: I realize that there is a lot of multiracial presence in your images...

D The multiracial thing is kind of hard. Being a white Afrikaner person, growing up in the suburbs you do not really see these kinds of images. I think that it is becoming a cultural thing. We get so used to seeing black people living on the streets. I mean in South Africa, the majority of the people are black so obviously there will be a larger percentage of that race group living on the streets. I then approached spaces like Mahala flats where you will find people of almost every race group sharing a place to sleep. Like you will see in one of my images two white guys, a black guy and a coloured guy sleeping next to each other. I then realized that poverty is not a racial or a cultural thing but a global issue, a social issue that is affects everyone.

R: Yes, it is a social epidemic. This concept of homeless people is quite broad. It is not just about someone who is poor, jonless and homeless - it is also about those who are working but who are living on the streets right?

D One story I remember, with reference to the image of the guy in the green blanket who is busy injecting himself with heroin. While I was taking a photograph, another black guy came to me and asked me ‘why are you helping these people’? I had come with an NGO (DaretoLove), we go out occasionally to the streets and give people clothing and food. We try to focus on areas that are otherwise disregarded, where you find many homeless people who are dealing with social ills like poverty and such. I explained that we do not give money to people, just food and clothes to those
who really need. He then responded that this would not help as the people will just go out and sell these items to get more drugs.

From our conversation, I could hear that the person was educated, So I asked him where he was from? He told me he has a BA Degree, he is from Swaziland. It happened that a couple of months ago, he was with friends smoking weed and the next time (without him realizing) someone stuck a blunt of nyaope in his hand. He said he stays in Pretoria West. He told me ‘I do not need money or food, do you have soap for me?” I asked him why he needed soap, and he responded ‘tomorrow morning I am going to Swaziland, so when I arrive I want to look clean’.

R: I see that you have little children in your pictures, why are thy there? Are they also homeless? Do they have family?

D Ya, children are a touchy subject. If you go to places like Marabastad, near the taxi rank (Belle Ombre), literally a block away from there, there is an informal settlement. When I went there I saw 13 or more little kids (who some did not have shirts on, while others did not have shoes on). It was about six o clock on a Saturday morning and the adults looked as if they were drunk, out of their minds, while children were just running around unattended.

And then you go to places like Elandspoort, in this case we went there with the Dare to Love campaign, this little white girl, while we were giving out food, came up to us, picked up an apple and ran back home. A few moments later, she came back to get some bread placed it in her dress and then ran back. So I wondered where the kid was from, we then followed her, when we got to where she led us, we found an elderly person who seemed to be drugged on something lying in bed. There were about eight other children living in this small room. I then realized that the little white girl was getting food for her family.

This is happening all around us, you would think that you would need to go to India or somewhere to see extreme poverty. From my experience over the past 7 months of doing street photography. I have pushed myself to try to explore places that are otherwise considered to be ‘dangerous’. I can see that poverty exists everywhere. I mean I can take you anywhere regardless of what suburb you live in Pretoria and show you extreme poverty.

R: In many of your images you photograph people in their personal space, I know that capturing people in their private spaces is not an easy thing to do, how do you build the relationship in order to get that close?

D 90% of the images that you see, I have ask for permission before I shoot, some guys will see me carrying a camera and then I’ll just ask to take a quick photograph. Most of the time the person will say ‘sure you can take photo’. I ideally do not share someone’s image unless I have been given permission. So at the end of the day it is about honouring the person. Here is the thing, we walk past homeless people in the streets and we sometimes forget that they are human beings, like me they have someone they love; they have their own dreams and passions, they are all like us – their scenarios are just different.


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