This is one of the great, and disturbing, things that only a photograph can do. If you saw these two kids on the street you could, and probably would, glance away without looking too deeply in their eyes. But the photograph makes it okay to take a closer look and what I see in those eyes bugs me a lot - kids who have seen and experienced things that youngsters that age should not have had to deal with. A painter could show us that, but we wouldn't know how much of it was "impressionistic." A video could present their story, but with so many elements going on at once (movement, sound, color, a word from our sponsor) it would be easy to miss the details. Someone could tell us about these kids and we would shake our heads and "tsk, tsk," but it would be on a relatively superficial level. A photograph captured the moment and the look and holds it still for us to really ponder if we dare to look.
And all the talk of "exploitation" and such seems to #1 always come from those who's primary work is in landscape or other inanimate subjects (not a denigration of the work, the photographers or the subject matter). #2 It's good to learn the background of photographers rather than make assumptions. Mary Ellen Mark cares about her subjects deeply, and in many cases remains in contact with them - not to further exploit but to track the progress of her friends. Diane Arbus went to the institutions for the mentally challenged to force us to acknowledge the existence of a population that up until that point was kept hidden from the sight of "polite" company (much as she did in her other photographic subjects). In her journals she wrote about the people she was photographing at these institutions, referring to them by name and personalities and talking about the enjoyment she got in their company. And they enjoyed the attention they were receiving from someone on the "outside," so who was exploiting whom?
I'm reminded of the old saw, "Your feelings don't tell you about anyone but yourself." So if someone feels this sort of work is exploitive, perhaps they can best be served by that feeling by focusing inward. For myself, if I could give the world just a few photos of this nature then none of my playing around with silver and chemicals would have been an empty, self indulgent exercise.
Thanks for posting this photo,