It’s a photo so poignant and so symbolic you’d be forgiven for assuming it’s faked.
And you wouldn’t be alone in that conclusion: Both Reddit and Snopes dismissed it as fake when it went viral earlier this year. And yet this is a real photo of a real billboard, featuring President-elect Donald Trump promoting Trump Tower in Mumbai while homeless children camp in the street below.
“There is only one way to live,” the billboard reads, next to a larger-than-life photo of Trump smiling down on a scene of poverty from his gilded room. “The Trump way.”
Outside of cropping it and possibly tweaking the contrast, photographer Paul Needham assured The Huffington Post “the image is neither doctored nor edited in any way.”
Needham is the co-founder of SimpaNetworks, a company that helps farmers and small shops in rural India install and use solar power systems. He said he stumbled across the scene while driving through Mumbai to meet with some investors.
“I was inspired to take the photo because of the jarring juxtaposition of the Trump billboard and the poverty and homelessness down below,” he said. “The text on the billboard struck me as particularly naive and offensive.”
“I saw Trump towering over the homeless, the children sleeping on cardboard on the street, and I was reminded of the ways in which our economic system can be painfully exclusive and unfair.””
Needham first shared the photo after he took it in August 2014, then posted it online again on Dec. 17, 2016, when it went viral.
“Business, done right, can create lasting social value,” said Needham. “I saw Trump towering over the homeless, the children sleeping on cardboard on the street, and I was reminded of the ways in which our economic system can be painfully exclusive and unfair.”
Here’s a higher resolution photo of the billboard Needham sent HuffPost:
Beyond the heavy symbolism of the photo itself, the internet’s reaction to the photo ― mostly in the form of dismissal ― is worth a closer look.
“The Reddit community actively engaged with this photo, and the opinion was nearly unanimous that the image had been photoshopped and was clearly a fake,” recalled Needham. “Anyone reading the Reddit chatter would likely defer to their high-technical knowledge, assume some deeper wisdom of these matters. But they were all wrong, the photo is genuine, and the geeks were merely opining, with no basis for their emphatic claims of fakery.”
(The fact-checking website Snopes also initially deemed the photograph a fake, speculating the homeless children had been photoshopped in based on the pixelation. Snopes has since corrected itself.)
“Who can we trust?” Needham asked rhetorically, adding that Snopes was quick to admit the mistake. “I’m grateful to [Snopes] for their tireless work to debunk fake news and rumor.”
“Pixelated, the poverty was assumed to be photoshopped in,” said Needham. “Just visit Mumbai and take pictures in the street. There is no need to Photoshop in the homeless. They are everywhere for all to see.”