Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
July 31, 2015

Beyond Matt Black’s Poverty Percentages

We, and his growing legion of followers beyond the photo community, may love Matt’s work for its conscience and for how visually arresting it is. More often than not, though, Black (ever the journalist) is also teasing some further commentary from an object or the play of light or a quirk of geometry or the attribute of distance to take on something either larger or more granular. If you simply relate to Black’s poverty or class imagery in the broad brush, it’s a prolific view. But, in most every frame, the deeper power and reward is that further question or allegation.

Take the photo above, for example….

Pathos goes hand-in-hand with rural poverty, often embellished by the curios of society. In this case, however, what’s put to question is nothing less than the moral viability of the empire.

Poverty reduces retail and access to goods to a cultural imperative. And who, in despair, doesn’t dream of some finer things in life? Playing against that theme, though, there’s another cut here, especially as Matt’s poverty imagery plays large now across corporate media. In that case: vast as it is, poverty disappears in an instant into the shadow and all the fairy tales of consumer culture.

What’s audacious here is how Matt turns “getting close enough” on its head. That’s in contrast to the need to step back and put the migration issue, and all the smashmouth border politics, into a larger perspective.

…Of course, don’t miss the locations and %’s in the captions. You can also follow Black’s Geography of Poverty project at MSNBC, not to mention, Instagram.

Previous BagNews post on Matt Black’s work here.

(photos: Matt Black/Magnum Photos caption 1: Doña Ana County, N.M. Backyard. Doña Ana’s population is 209,233 and 27.0% live below the poverty level.caption 2: Laredo, Texas. Laredo is a city in Webb County, Texas. The population is 236,091 and 30.8% live below the poverty level. caption 3: McAllen, Texas. Jumping the border fence. McAllen is a city in Hidalgo County, Texas. The population is 129,877 and 26.7% live below the poverty level.)

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