Slumming It

Felice sent me this article “Slum Visits – Tourism or Voyeurism?” from last week’s NYT and I couldn’t help but think about my “voyage” around the world. More than monuments and tourist spots I wanted to see and experience how people live. I was first and foremost an anthropologist, photographer, and traveler; not a tourist. But I quickly learned that there were still conflicting emotions involved, and I still was an outsider. Visiting the townships of South Africa [above] was eye opening and insightful, but at the same time we couldn’t help feel like we were on a twisted trip to the zoo, but with humans on display. On one of my visits I was fortunate enough to have “tour guides” from Operation Hunger, who work directly to improve and educate the very communities we were visiting. I even struggled as a photographer. I always have a camera on me, but now everyone else did too. And was it even appropriate to take pictures? Read more about “slum tourism” here and decide how you feel about it for yourself.


  • I think this is a fantastic way to get under the skin in a country – the crucial thing is that the money you pay for these kinds of tours finds it’s way into the local economy, so that you are part of the solution to poverty not just a voyeur. See my post about a Fairtrade trip to the Philippines for an example.

  • this is such an interesting topic. By not going the tourist-y route, we are appreciating their culture for what it is, but it still feels like a fishbowl. And I was just observing; I couldn’t imagine picking up a camera.
    – Jessie –

  • I read this article too and have been carefully considering a response. I agree with Heather – the important thing is that the tours are locally coordinated and the money goes/stays in the community/project. But all too often they’re not – the tour companies pockets most of the money and the locals just get tips if anything. And as a traveller it’s often so hard to determine how things are managed and who gets how much. I was once invited to get involved in teaching participatory filmmaking workshops in shanty towns in Rio and Lima – a week in each – and the first day was difficult. I felt so out of place, that I shouldn’t have been there… but little by little each day I felt more at ‘home’ and by the last day felt part of the family. Projects like these are better than ‘tours’ but obviously not everyone can get involved in such projects, so it’s better to ‘see’ than not to see in my opinion. Awareness is a step toward contributing and donating. I love those photos, Anne!

  • Township tourism really is a complex issue. As conflicted as I feel about township tourism, I love love love these photos. I especially like the contrasting poses between the tiny boy and girl in the second shot. -X

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *