Photo: Warehouse district. El Paso, TX. © Matt Black, Courtesy of Anastasia Photo
It is more than fifty years since President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the “War on Poverty,” and not much can be said when one takes into account the fact that income for the top 1% has more than doubled since the 1970s. As the United States increasingly assumes the form of an oligarchy, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow. At the very top of the pyramid, the richest 0.1% have tripled their wealth, sharing 22% of the national wealth.
Like most wars waged against capitalism, the War on Poverty failed miserably. Today, more than 45 million people fall below the poverty line, a record high for the country. The United State Census Bureau sets the poverty line at an annual income of $11,490 for one person or $23,550 for a family of four. Often times, it is not just the individual or the family that fall below the line, but the larger community itself, as the local economy collapses under the inability to sustain itself. When considering poverty in a country as wealthy as the United States, we come to understand that inherent in poverty is the deeper, systemic oppression of unchecked capitalism itself.
Photographer Matt Black began “The Geography of Poverty” using his Instagram feed in December 2013, starting in his home region of California’s Central Valley. It was here, in the heart of the nation’s richest state, that Black began to document the third world conditions that ravaged his native land. Combining images, geolocation, and poverty data, “The Geography of Poverty” put the most devastated communities in the United States on the map. The project has gained over 180,000 followers and earned Black TIME’s title 2014 Instagram Photographer of the Year.
In June 2015, Black began a three-month road trip that took him across the four corners of the United States, documenting over 70 cities, towns, and rural communities where more than 20% of the residents lived below the poverty line. Beginning in Barstow, California, Black followed a pre-planned route, taking us deep inside the underbelly of the American Dream and bringing the darkness to the light.
“Matt Black: The Geography of Poverty” is on view at Anastasia Photo, New York, through November 1, 2015. The photographs paint a haunting portrait of the ravages of economic disparity and the devastation poverty wreaks not just on the soul and the body but on the landscape itself. Working in black and white, Black strips the world of the pleasure that color brings and forces us to look at the cold hard reality of life for millions of Americans. Yet his approach is empowering, dynamic, and bold, as Black neither heroicizes nor romanticizes the plight of poverty in any form. Instead he confronts it head on, without flinching, and makes us aware, much in the same way as Jacob Riis did, of how the other half lives.
Black continues to travel the country, and his progress can be seen on an interactive site he has created with MSNBC. He will complete the last leg of his travels, with a final stop in Eugene, Oregon, later this month.
“Matt Black: The Geography of Poverty” is on view at Anastasia Photo, New York, through November 1, 2015.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.