Poverty and environmental issues such as lack of rainfall.

Poverty is often overlooked in comparison to other modern day social
and economic epidemics, but it is a continuous American problem over two
hundred years after the countries founding. Sometimes
words aren’t enough to convey the way that some people must live due to poverty.
In 2011 almost 46.5 million people in America were living in poverty. Some
reasons for extreme poverty rates are because of problems such as changing
trends in the economy, lack of education, high divorce rates, overpopulation
and environmental issues such as lack of rainfall. Forty-five million Americans
are still stuck below the poverty line, despite five years of economic
recovery, poverty is still stubbornly high in America1.
The official poverty rate is thirteen-point five percent.2 We
live in an age where the bulk of photographic productivity has never been
better, this leaves photographers the ability to impact humanities perception
on what is important. Photography has always held a significant part in
civilisations translation of understanding worldwide events, from war
photographs like Robert Capa’s “The Falling Soldier” in 1936, to unforgettable
photos like Richard Drew’s “Falling Man” from the 9/11 attack in 2001, to Matt
Black’s photo essay “Geography of Poverty”. There comes a lot of controversy
when observing photos to do with death, illness and poverty, but the question
that everyone asks is why do photographers photograph the poor?  

 

In the
21st century there has been a lot of economical improvements such as
higher crop productivity, decreased use of water and fertilizer which in turn
keeps the price of food lower, and less run off chemicals that run into rivers
and groundwater; however, in some areas where America succeeds with their
economy, they lack in other areas such as: healthcare, not investing much into
their education scheme and the allowances that are given to single parents which
would make it easier for men and women to work (that in itself is a good
investment for America and will lessen the poverty rate). Photographers usually
turn their cameras towards struggling zones to increase awareness on inequality
and discriminating policies, an exceptional example of a well-known
photographer that helps demonstrates this is Matt Black with his series of
photos “Geography of Poverty”. Black wanted to capture images that represented
income inequality with this photo essay3.
He travelled through thirty states and 70 of the poorest towns in America, and
he visited a small town in California called Allensworth where fifty-four
percent of the population of four hundred and seventy-one people live below the
poverty line. Fifty years after the war on poverty, this project pursues to
focus attention on America’s poorest places and highlights the country’s rising
gap between the rich and the poor. The photographs that Black has produced
since 2013 are more than influential and changes the way that people view how the other half live. By working in a sharp contrast and in black and
white he produces images that are stark and impressionistic, also by working in
black and white it is completely organic and authentic in a way that colour
would not be able to portray. The American
dream is not dithering so brightly in these poverty-ridden communities. It’s
appropriate for Black to push these images to the point where they ask tough
questions about human ethics of poverty however how far can he push theses
boundaries.

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4

The
technique that matt black has used to present his images in a recent exhibition
in 2015 is seen unsettling, he has printed the photographs quite large which
impacts the way the viewer digests them, being left with dark realities and
mixed emotions that leaves them anxious. Each photograph is moving and hard
hitting in their own way, touching on subjects such as climate change, race,
and immigration. His landscapes spiral more towards an almost post-apocalyptic
hallucination of these dejected regions of America. Some people may say that
some of the photographs in this photo essay are too much and that could be
agreed on, he could have been a bit lighter on some of the content of his
images. So, some may think that this is a positive impact by showing the world
that poverty is still a huge issue in America and there are things that people
can do to stop this; but can also be considered negative by the way that his
photographs are so changeling and disconcerting.

Joakim Eskildsen is a Danish
photographer who set out to travel America in 2011 in search of people living
in poverty, he travelled to the most deprived areas in the country: Fresno,
California; Athens, Georgia; Cheyenne River, South Dakota; New Orleans,
Louisiana; Bronx, New York. Comparing Eskildsen’s “American Realities” to Matt
Black’s “The Geography of Poverty” there is clear difference’s in their
photographs. Matt Black went for traditional black and white documentary
photography with few clear portraits of the people that he’d met whilst
photographing his photo essay, whereas Eskildsen uses colour photography with
quite low, earthy tones; his photographs look like they’ve got a blue-y,
green-y, brown-y hue to them. These colours contrast with the sunny and bright
American Dream that are – sadly – out of reach to the individuals in the
photographs. Eskildsen’s portraits are heart-breaking but also eerily stunning
at the same time, and they don’t look forced at all. By spending a lot of time
with his subjects and having spoken to them about their living situation and
their lives these portraits come across a lot more relaxed than if he were just
to take their photo and leave, it’s always important to have a relationship
with the people you’re taking photographs of to achieve flawless unprompted
portraits. The portraits are mostly situated where that specific person lives/sleeps
(some people in the photo series are sleeping on boats, trailers, tents in the
middle of forests and tents in the middle of streets), the composition corresponds
with the subject’s direct stare at the camera, and Eskildsen only uses the
available (natural) light that is given at the time and uses a tripod to get
that even frame for each person. Whether someone likes these photos or not it
is an important piece of documentation, this project wasn’t a government funded
project therefore gives the public a hint about how American government react to the challenges of
poverty.

5

These are just two out of the
fifty-two photos that were taken, at the back of this photo book is a little
bit on each person and what their living situation is and why they are living
below the line. These photographs are so heart wrenching it can’t be put into
words. Once you read the text on each of the people, you feel connected with
them. When you look at the photo you feel sad but once you have read a bit
about it as well you’re no longer just looking at a photograph, you’re looking
at a real person, with real problems and you instantly feel a sadness that you
can’t keep in. The reason for this is because at first look on these photos the
viewers may think “there must be a reason that these people are living in
poverty, why can’t they just get a job?” and unfortunately it isn’t that easy
for some people. Once you read about these people you realise that they are
good citizens of the community for example: nurses that can’t work anymore due
to an injury, and no longer have access to running water, people who have been
laid off work as interior designers since 2008 and cant even get a job as a
cashier because they are too overqualified, unemployed military veterans who
are trying to live on just $3,500 a year between their family and parents who
are afraid that their son could be a subject to racism at the age of six6.
It leaves you with a whole other perception on people who are living in
poverty. The photograph above of Darlene Rosas is a favourite from this photo
essay, there is a lot of scenery surrounding this woman, with not a lot around
except from a couple of cars (one might be the photographers), few pieces of
wood that look like they are being used for a make shift washing line, and
situated in the middle is Darlene. Darlene was a nurse and was laid off work due
to an injury which left her disabled and unable to work, her disability pay is
only $800 which she shares with her two children. This photograph is quite a
calming photo to look at, considering the tones of the image and the way that
the subject is posed, she looks very relaxed. Comparing the two photos above the
photo of James and Diane seems quite chaotic with all the items the own in one
room, but seems like a quiet moment of time when this photo was taken.

In the early 1970’s whilst in the
USA Jacob Holdt would write to his parents in Denmark about the appalling
poverty that he had observed whilst travelling. However, his parents didn’t appear
to believe his words, so for his birthday they had bought him a little pocket
camera and asked him to send them some pictures back home “and that was the
beginning of the fifteen thousand pictures”. It was also the launch of
“American pictures”, which is Holdt’s international best seller. When Holdt had
been travelling America, he was looking at it from an outsider’s viewpoint, and
he used photography to get across an influential message.

“I lived with
my black friends all those years I saw the pain and suffering and I felt, when
I showed the pictures to people, they didn’t even know the suffering that was
going on in the midst of their own cities. And they were deeply moved by it. So,
I felt that I was a mediator between totally segregated worlds. To bring the
pain in the Black community out to the ones I perceived as being their
oppressors, this is my commitment to all the friends that I have photographed.”7

8

He lived with many people in one
room huts of the rustic south and the city slums of the north, but he had also
slept in the households of the Rockefellers and the other well-off families and
he in secret photographed and recorded Ku Klux Klan rallies. Holdt takes a
different turn to photographing poverty by photographing the way racism impacts
poverty via looking at people in the black community and the way that they had
to live. The photo essay is tremendously covering, and it portrays the black society
in a way that had never been seen before. The photos were taken in the 1970’s
and this is when racism was still prominent, hence the living situations that
some of these people were living in. Jacob Holdt’s photos are very different
compared to Matt Black’s, and Joakim Eskildsen’s, for instance Jacob Holdt didn’t
have the intention initially to photograph poverty, he just happened to be right
amid a crucial point in time and had a pocket camera to document it, whereas
Eskildsen and Black both went out in search for people in poverty to photograph.
By not being a photographer, he was doing all the wrong things but at the same
time getting it so right, because he wasn’t a photographer people didn’t feel like
they had to pose for him or make sure that he got the perfect photograph, he
got all the stories there without the noise of the photographer standing in the
way of the camera and the story. Holdt’s work is hard to look at but your eyes
are locked to the photographs, these unforgiving truths happened. When looking
at these photos you can clearly see that these are no ordinary living
conditions, what look like small, dusty and dirty shacks are the homes of many
and were acknowledged by few. What is most heart breaking about these photos is
the fact these people are black and were falling into all the minority categories
meaning that they were a huge subject to racism and not being given a real shot
at life, inequality is an understatement. Whilst these people were being
photographed in inexcusable environments Holdt had also photographed rich and
racist white people as part of this series, in some photos they were wearing
their fashion designer clothes, smoking cigarettes with a big plate of food in
front of them or they were part of the KKK. It’s also hard to see babies, small
children and pensioners living in these conditions, there is nothing ethical
about these photographs. The only thing that is ethical is the fact that holdt documented
these photos to show the world how corrupt this period was. Holdts work can be considered
authentic as he was using a film camera and didn’t really have any photography
experience, this was in the age where analogue was at it’s peak of time, and
digital cameras hadn’t been invented, along with the likes of photoshop. They
are a trustworthy source of documentation of race and poverty in the 1970’s, with
the positive impact of showing the world how it really is also comes the
negative lateral in the circumstances that these photos (just like Matt Black)
are distressing, however this is a problem that must be overcome to allow ourselves
to accept these cruel ways and harsh realities as it is a crucial part of
history and is still an ongoing issue and has to be put across bluntly to get
the message forwards.

All these images from the photographers
researched convey the challenges of day-to-day life in these communities. With
the help of photography, it allows outsiders to view an entire new side to America
that we don’t typically get to see, because we are fed with advertising of America
to be a place of hopes, dreams and new beginnings with the ceaseless American dream.
Even though some of these images may be disturbing and hard to look at, it
enables us to open the truths that are often kept behind closed doors and aids
us to appreciate the difficulties that some individuals had and still have to
face now. Photographing poverty could be considered unsentimental, nevertheless
this is argued that it’s not, as photojournalists are grabbing the chances they
can to be able to show the world that poverty is an unending political topic
that proves to be in no hurry to be resolved. The positive impacts that this
has globally out weighs the negative effects as its believed photojournalists
are fundamentally risking their lives to make someone whom is more unfortunate better
off in the long run in hopes that their photographs might change the way we
decide to help others in need, and maybe hope that their pictures will shape
the world into a better place. There is so much power in photography, it is often
overlooked but others may forget photographers such as Kevin Carter with his
photograph of the starving boy, and the fact that he could no longer stand the
fact that there is so much hatred in the world, and that his dreams were
haunted with the killings, anger, pain and corpses that he had witnessed in his
photojournalism career evidentially ending with him taking his own life.
Overall, photojournalism is a huge part how other people get to see the world
for what it really is, finding new truths and unbearable sights is hard to digest
but must be seen to generate real change, photography impacts the earth positively
in a way that writing, drawings and spoken words cannot. Photography doesn’t lie,
when it comes to terms of photojournalism as all the rules of photojournalism come
down to ethical practise, and lying wouldn’t be considered ethical.

1
Facts from: 11 Facts About Education and Poverty in America Online https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-education-and-poverty-america
28th December 2017

2 Center
For Poverty Research, University of California Davis Online https://poverty.ucdavis.edu/faq/what-current-poverty-rate-united-states
28th Decemeber 2017

3
The Geography of Poverty was featured on The Global Oneness Project website,
which highlights a California community in Tulare county that suffers from a
lack of water and infrastructure.

 

4 Frank,
P. ‘Huffpost. One Man’s Stark Photo Collection Reveals The ‘Geography of Poverty’
In America’ Online https://poverty.ucdavis.edu/faq/what-current-poverty-rate-united-states
29th December 2017

5 Photos from: Eskildsen, J. ‘American Realities Works’
Online http://www.joakimeskildsen.com/default.asp?Action=Menu&Item=133
31st January 2017

6 6 “My son could be in the wrong place at the
wrong time. He could be killed, and nobody would care. A lot of good kids get
killed and nobody does anything” – Quinton on his son Quintavius Scott

7 ‘An Interview with Jacob Holdt: “American Pictures” (1993)
Online  http://www.americansuburbx.com/2010/04/interview-jacob-holdt-1993.html
3rd January 2018

8 Photo from: ‘Social Documents’ Online http://photography-now.com/exhibition/67480
3rd January 2018