America From The Bottom’: Documenting Poverty Across The Country

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USA. Teviston, California. 2001. Boy with an old farm truck.

Over the past four years, matt black has tried to document poverty in the United States. He traveled to places that were both common and often neglected, trying to make poverty more apparent in the United States.

Black, an associate member of Magnum Photos, has been working on a project called the geography of poverty. He traveled about 100,000 miles in 46 states, and some of his photos appear in the latest issue of time magazine.

Black spoke with NPR’s Scott Simon about the project and what he learned about poverty in the United States.

Interviews with key
He saw the whole country

What I see is this huge gap, you know, we like to tell ourselves these American myths, this is a place of opportunity and so on, and so much about the life of so many communities, you know, this country. I mean the truth is that the wealth gap in this country is driving people into a largely inevitable fate. If you were born poor in America today, you would probably be poor. If you’re born rich, so are you.

You know, one of the things that I’ve heard over and over again in the course of this trip has taken me across the south, you know, these communities were really the front lines of the civil rights movement 50 years ago, but a lot of the good news is that the era and the movement went elsewhere.

What does he mean for poor americans

You know, for me, poverty is not a real economic problem. It is a question of power: who has met their needs, the community has met their needs, and which communities have not. That’s what I’m trying to photograph here — it’s not an objectified poverty, it’s an experiential poverty. Ok, what’s it like to be here? How does it feel to have your reality surrounded by these particular power totems, social forces? Are your streets paved or not? Is the street lamp working or not working? When you go downtown, are four out of five businesses in a block closed? How does it affect people’s sense of self? Community awareness? And so on. All of these glimpses are captured in the corners of your eyes, but they form an environment for living or growing up, or, you know, experiencing America from the bottom up. From the cruelest bottom.

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