The AFP photographer talks us through his viral image of a woman standing next to her empty fridge in Tripoli, taken this year as Lebanon’s financial crisis worsens.
This project is actually a team effort. It started from our regional office in Cyprus, where the head of the photo department, Mario Goldman, wanted to show the level of poverty in a dwindling economy. So, we asked, “What would really make a picture show something like this?” We wanted to take people into the houses of others — those who are mainly poor and hungry — and see what’s inside the house. And to show that type of hunger or lack of daily basic requirements, why not look in the fridge?
This picture was taken in a poor neighborhood in Tripoli called ‘El Kobbeh.’ The woman that you see is 60 years old. She lives alone in a one-room apartment that’s not hers — a man gave it to her to live in. She’s not able to buy food. Traders usually give her leftovers of vegetables and fruits so she can sustain herself on a daily basis. I never met her before, but when I was speaking to friends around me, they knew the houses of people in need and this lady was one of them.
I was able to reach her and told her that I would like to take a picture of her with her fridge open and she said, “No problem at all, because poverty is not a sin.” She told me that she previously had a bigger fridge, which she had to sell. She took the money to buy some food and a smaller fridge.
I was measuring the light, doing all the technical stuff and I took one click — and that was the photo. What touched me about this photo was the woman’s face. She has a face that tells you, “I am weak and nobody is around to help me and I’m alone.” I’m not showing someone in the street begging or taking food from the trash — it’s a lady living in her apartment, and you can feel sadness and darkness in this picture.
After the picture went viral, I received lots of comments from people who were sad, saying: “What is this government doing and how could people live like this?” NGOs have contacted me and a girl called me telling me that she wanted to fill one of those empty fridges. The reaction to this photo was extraordinary.