Girl on the Verge
August 4, 2009 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Love Me is a heartbreaking photo essay that follows the life of a 17 year old girl living in extreme poverty in Southeastern Ohio.

"At this vulnerable point in her life, she is seeking love and support, but has a difficult time finding people who can provide her emotional stability."
Via.
posted by lunasol (169 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not for me. Good photography doesn't need lengthy written introduction or suggestive captions.

"What? I didn't hurt him," Autumn said after hanging her dog by its leash.
Autumn and her family can't afford to buy cigarettes so they roll their own.
Autumn's younger brother yells in to her ear in an argument over the chair she is sitting in.


Ugh.
posted by fire&wings at 6:05 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm struck by the amount of emotion on her face in all of these. She wears her heart on her sleeve.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:06 PM on August 4, 2009


She looks like she's 14, not 17.
posted by delmoi at 6:07 PM on August 4, 2009


God, I can smell the cigarette smoke hanging in the air.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:08 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Autumn sits between a relative's legs. She alleges that he tried to rape her when she was 13 years old, but says that her parents do not believe her

Autumn shows bruises left on her chest after a neighbor grabbed them. She started dating him the following week. She says she felt sorry for him and that he said he would not hurt her again.
Jesus, this is depressing. The sad part of this is realizing that even at the moment when some people are born, they never had a chance. Expecting this girl to somehow overcome her environment is a bit too Pollyanna. Some do... but most don't. We could pretty much go back to this same spot in about 17 years and read about Autumn's 17-year-old daughter...
posted by hincandenza at 6:09 PM on August 4, 2009 [11 favorites]


Moving and all, but horrible journalism and so-so photography. Studs Terkel or Mother Jones she ain't. The way to fight poverty isn't to bloviate about the unfairness.

That said, I'm glad to see the effusion of giving a shit about "the other class" now that other crusts are starting to taste of maybe not getting enough at the dinner table.

To sound perfectly grandiose about my own experiences, seeing this as "photojournalism" makes me really think I need to record some of my own experiences working in the abject poverty of Appalachia. I mean, I've worked with kids who *dream* of sharing a trailer with 5 relatives.

Thanks for sharing.
posted by TomMelee at 6:09 PM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


This one appears to have had the background blurred by hand (or maybe a tilt+shift but... it's unnatural looking to me).
posted by bz at 6:15 PM on August 4, 2009


Beautiful photography. I'm not sure that the pictures are quite as communicative as Crow would like, but she sure knows how to put a picture together. She could go further in editorial and corporate stuff perhaps...
posted by Magnakai at 6:15 PM on August 4, 2009


Autumn fights with an ex-boyfriend in the kitchen of her home.

Camera, down?
posted by davebush at 6:17 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


"To sound perfectly grandiose about my own experiences, seeing this as "photojournalism" makes me really think I need to record some of my own experiences working in the abject poverty of Appalachia. I mean, I've worked with kids who *dream* of sharing a trailer with 5 relatives."

Imagine well water that tastes like an iron spike. Imagine a wood stove heating a trailer, with only one room warm. Or 9 people living in that trailer with no telephone and an old black and white TV that only got one station. Septic tank was for rich folk. There was an open pit down the hill from the house for that. The old washer had to be filled by hand with that iron, yellow water that turned your clothes a piss color. I love the mountains of Appalachia, but growing up in them was hell. That was in the 1980's. Now, my parents are 'rich' because they have a newer trailer (purchased in 2000, and already looking 20 years old), satellite TV and a generator for when the power goes out in the winter.
posted by UseyurBrain at 6:21 PM on August 4, 2009 [21 favorites]


I feel bad for "Autumn" and her family, but:

* a two story house
* filled with tchotchkes,
* Mountain Dew and Doritos to eat,
* a supply of smokes,
* a curling iron,
* clothing with advertising
* apparently a family car,
* etc.

It reminds me of college, without you know, the books and classes. Yes, poverty is terrible, and no doubt hat's the cause of some of the family's problems, but it looks like apathy is more of a problem.
posted by orthogonality at 6:25 PM on August 4, 2009 [15 favorites]


A decent society would be one in which children are taught that their childhood does not have to be their future. Where they are taught to value themselves enough to make choices that will get them ahead.

I doubt Autumn is going anywhere fast. Doesn't have the requisite life skills.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:26 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jesus somebody please take their dogs away.
posted by vito90 at 6:30 PM on August 4, 2009 [17 favorites]


fire&wings: The pictures stand on their own without the aid of captions, but the captions certainly further illuminate the images. All three examples of "suggestive captions" that you posted look like straight up facts to me.

TomMelee: How is it horrible journalism? "So-so photography" is a matter of opinion, and there's no accounting for taste, but again, how is this horrible journalism? In no way do I see the photographer "bloviate about the unfairness" of this girl's life. The facts are presented through simple statements and powerful pictures.
If you think you can do better given your background, don't "bloviate" about it, fucking do it.

bz: Your link does not work, but I can assure you that all of these pictures remain strongly within the confines of the photojournalism ethics standards mandated by the university the photographer attends. These standards preclude such manipulation.

Magnakai: The piece is clearly labeled "Work in Progress."
posted by TheGoldenOne at 6:32 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of the photo essay on the "White Family" from Kentucky I saw a while back. (It appears to have vanished from the tubes, or I'd have linked it.) Very sad.
posted by brandman at 6:35 PM on August 4, 2009


I'm amazed at all my friends who travel to the four corners of the earth to experience exotic cultures, and yet have never been to Southeastern Ohio. Stepping into these pockets of white poor and working class culture is like nothing so much as beaming down from the Starship Enterprise onto a completely new planet. It's not like they are dumber and poorer and worse-dressed versions of middle class Americans. They are playing a whole different ballgame, with rules and goals that you don't recognize. Let the adventurous traveler skip Yemen this year, and head down to Southeast Ohio and West Virginia. It's a perspective-re-orienting experience. Maybe one of the natives will let you watch him or her prepare dinner or sleep in their Yurt.
posted by Faze at 6:39 PM on August 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


orthogonality: But for most students poverty is (hopefully) only temporary; they come from relatively well-to-do family, and with some luck, they'll get a middle-class life. Autumn has been poor all her life, and she doesn't see a way out of poverty.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:43 PM on August 4, 2009


Why do I insist on clicking on things described as "heartbreaking" and tagged with "poverty." I never learn.
posted by milarepa at 6:45 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


An example of extreme poverty is having to roll their own cigarettes because they can't afford to buy them pre-rolled?

Puh-lease.
posted by Revvy at 6:47 PM on August 4, 2009


It reminds me of college, without you know, the books and classes. Yes, poverty is terrible, and no doubt hat's the cause of some of the family's problems, but it looks like apathy is more of a problem.

I...I just...WHAT THE FUCK?

Supporting a family of five on $14K is just like college? 'Poverty is terrible, but?' Poverty causes some of their problems, but on balance, they're just lazy?

Damn, poor people - you got DORITOS, motherfuckers! Quit yer whinin'! I'll really, really have to remember this post next time I'm in a remote Indigenous community in Australia: "Hey, that kid's got an Adidas logo on his shirt! I guess things are just fucking peachy right around here!"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:49 PM on August 4, 2009 [78 favorites]


I have to side with orthogonality here. Extreme poverty means "What the fuck am I going to feed my family today; I have no money - as in, zero dollars and zero cents," or "Sleeping on the streets during the winter sure is rough, a large box would be awfully nice!" Not: "I have a car to take me and several members of my family to a job, however modest the income it might bring." Or: "What's for lunch today -- shag tobacco, corn-nuts and high fructose corn syrup again?"

The people I see in these photos have given up on life.
posted by contessa at 6:50 PM on August 4, 2009 [12 favorites]


After the Polaroid Kidd I assumed the nation's poor was living a post-punk bohemian existence, part steam punk and part Mad Max. I was half expecting these photos to depict them drinking Nuka Cola and talking about President John Henry Eden. But uh, I guess reality is a whole lot more depressing.
posted by geoff. at 6:50 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


UseyurBrain-
I'm right there with you. I often forget that they're where I was---I mean, because for me it was ... normal? Right?

TheGoldenOne-
Why is it horrible? Everything is captioned like it should be on Oprah's Big Fancy Boo Hoo Fest, artisitic blurs, fisheyes and "domestic violence" caught on film. (Really looks like they're dicking around in that pic to me, moreso than fighting.)

I almost, ALMOST, almost am tempted to call bullshit on the whole series, because if there's one thing that Appalachians are---it's closed door and private as hell. "Southeast Ohio" might not be Appalachia, but the Ohio river separates the land that birds fly upside down over from the southern coal fields of WV, and coal mining gave way to factory jobs that dried up and blew away like so much dirt on parking lot. I almost call bullshit because we're fierce people---we protect what we have and we're proud of ourselves, and we don't like people boo-hooing on our behalf (we do it just fine without the suits!). With almost a third of our incarcerated population behind bars for domestic violence, we keep that shit quiet too---rightly or wrongly. I say "we" collectively, of course, referring to validity of the piece much more so than the standpoint.

How convenient that she was there to catch the argument over the empty chair in full technicolor, her peering out the window at the other poor kids playing with sticks. I guess I call the piece fluff because good pictures of this sort, in my mind, don't need captions.

Not to mention the fact that the national poverty line doesn't count for a pigs eye in a poke, what matters are your local HUD numbers. Shit, in the county south of me, median for a family of 4 is just over $24,000. That's MEDIAN.

I think there are several reasons why we don't publicize the vantage point more---I think on one hand it's because we're actually afraid of it going away. On another hand, we tend to suffer in silence, 8 generations into being "land poor" you kind of forget that there's any other way to be.

Please don't get me wrong. The disadvantages faced by the kids in these situations are why I live the life I do and do the work I do. I've never been quiet about not feeling sorry for the advantaged and the silvery-spoony.

I've been trying for a while to think about how I can tell some stories from my life, from my professional life too---without violating the privacy of the families and without jeopardizing what they do have. See...

Where you see "poverty", I see "People."
posted by TomMelee at 6:54 PM on August 4, 2009 [26 favorites]


My irony filter is broken, cause all I see is a young woman with a string of university degrees and internships wanting us to stop and think about how another young woman has no future. We've seen enough of foto essays with this kinda dynamic, is it worth a prize? Let Autumn have the camera, I dare you.
posted by Sova at 6:58 PM on August 4, 2009 [24 favorites]


look like straight up facts to me

Not to me. They are emotive embellishments, which good photographs don't need. There are some good photographs here, in some cases they are weakened by the lengthy explanatory text. On the whole...nah. The first sign of crap photography is an emotive title. The second is a lengthy introductory text. The third is captioned photographs telling the viewer what is happening or what they are supposed to feel. If you can remove the photographs and still have an idea what is happening then there is obviously a problem with the presentation as a whole.
posted by fire&wings at 7:02 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it does seem like the photographer had some "weird" (to me) access to these people, and some strange reflexes: a fairly big guy is apparently beating his girlfriend; you stand a few feet away. You put your eye to your camera and go "click"?

Also, the caption and setups kind of remind me of this French hoax. It might be true, but it's seems a little too "good" to be.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:02 PM on August 4, 2009


The compositions look staged but all of the facial expressions look pretty candid.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 7:02 PM on August 4, 2009


Let's all hop off the "this is not real poverty" soapbox shall we? This is normal American rural poverty. It is ignorance born of crap public education. The job base is long gone and those that continue generally offer exciting opportunities to work at a cash register that doesn't use numbers but pictures. It is a culture that is unrecognizable to most/many people. Don't fool yourselves into thinking that these people want to be where they are or that there is a better alternative anywhere on the horizon. They enjoy sitting in old shitty furniture as much I enjoy it. You think that they get their kicks from Combos and Mountain Dew? Bullshit. That is all that the local store has that they can afford enough of to fill their stomachs. I will not presuppose that they know or don't know just how crappy that food is for their health. But, hopping on my high horse--Who the fuck gave any of us the right to tell anybody what they can eat? Seriously?

I will not defend a lifetime of bad decision making. They have no choice but to survive their reality and make sense of it. It is depressing to see, but reading some of your comments has made me even more depressed. Step back for a second and say "these are human beings who DESERVE compassion" when you look at the photos and see if that changes anything. This is a girl not a simulacrum of a girl. She is real. She feels.

Obviously, this touched a nerve with me. Apologies for the cussing but, whatever...

/stewing
posted by zerobyproxy at 7:11 PM on August 4, 2009 [28 favorites]


We've seen enough of foto essays with this kinda dynamic, is it worth a prize? Let Autumn have the camera, I dare you.

Word. These pictures show the author, more than the subject. And show the author tweeting on her iPhone OMG can you believe people live this way -- but it's Pulitzer catnip!

Exploitative and manipulative.
posted by Methylviolet at 7:15 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


wow, the lack of compassion.

metafilter tackles poverty and photojournalism, again.

i don't even have the calmness and restraint necessary to argue with the boneheaded suggestions of "this isn't poverty" "people wouldn't let you photograph this stuff without it being staged" and "jeez, put down the camera already".

just. wow.
posted by nadawi at 7:19 PM on August 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


brandman - the link in my above answer is the mefi post on the white family.
posted by nadawi at 7:20 PM on August 4, 2009


zerobyproxy: not sure if anybody's been bold enough to state that the people in the photos aren't enduring "real" poverty - just not extreme poverty.

If the photo essay was really any good at all, it would show the life of this girl and her family beyond the perimeter of her dooryard. Show me blocks and blocks of residential blight and dilapidation. Show me storefronts and factories and all manner of income-producing industry chained off, boarded up, spray-painted closed. Show me the school where a 17 year old is still in the 9th grade. Show me the books she's learning from. Show me what they do when they're not at home rolling cigarettes and inviting abusers into their houses. Really show me it. Because all I got from the photos was a family of people who obviously don't give a shit anymore. Was I supposed to see something else?
posted by contessa at 7:25 PM on August 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


That household makes more than mine, we just choose to stretch it to a cheap-but-livable apartment (about 500 sq. feet) instead of trailer maintenance & lot rental, cartons of cigarettes, overpriced but malnourishing foods, and dogs.

Live within your means. If that means having to hold off on starting a family, then so be it. I really want to have kids one day, but there's no way I'm going to neglect them before they're even born by bringing them into the world when I couldn't support them. All I can hope is that I will have enough financial security in place before I'm too old to score with a pre-menopausal ladybird.

Also, I started working when I was 14 years old. I'm now 25, of a pretty young generation, and yet still feel like I should channel the old fogey in me to tell this girl get off mah dayum porch and git a jorb!!!
posted by self at 7:26 PM on August 4, 2009


I think it is worthwhile, just to be reminded of rural poverty, often invisible to those whizzing by or flying over.

In West Virginia we noticed a crowd gathering one morning outside a church near the state park we were staying at. Few cars, mostly people on foot with bags or boxes. It was Wednesday morning and the food pantry was open for business. There were bins on the church's porch full of shoes and clothes people were picking thru. We had been there for three days and hadn't realized how many people were within walking distance, not to mention how little they had.

TomMelee, I'm sure you are well aware.

Yes, perhaps the arty format isn't the right medium, but it is a story that needs telling, and rarely is.
posted by readery at 7:29 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I love how we here get to decide what defines extreme or even non-extreme poverty. Privilege has its benefits.
posted by blucevalo at 7:37 PM on August 4, 2009 [15 favorites]


@contessa-- Look, you want distended bellies too to show how they have malnutrition? And a vulture waiting to eat their children? You aren't going to get that vantage point in viewing boring, everyday, American poverty. You never will.

Now,if you are angry with the photographer, which it sounds like you are, fine. Focus your anger at the person who couldn't photographically demonstrate "extreme poverty" in a way that would resonate with you. I could get behind that. But, in not doing that, you are passing judgment on the subjects of the photo essay and that's not right.
posted by zerobyproxy at 7:38 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think these are very powerful. Any attempt to document people's lives may be read as exploitative. I can't speak to that. Or rather, I can, but I think it's a separate discussion (that leads to great insights, often, but never any results, I'm afraid), and has little to do with how strong the actual work is.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:40 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Let Autumn have the camera, I dare you.
posted by debbie_ann at 7:40 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


There's also no indication that they've "given up", at least not totally -- for instance, they seem to have recently repainted the green wall (paint on the girl's pants, good looking wall).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:42 PM on August 4, 2009


The title and the captions almost ruined the pictures for me as well. I mean "LOVE ME," for real?

The pictures were nice, but I've seen enough of the similar shots that it is all just poverty porn to me now. Guess I'll go look at some Obama porn to make me feel happy.
posted by afu at 7:42 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The people I see in these photos have given up on life.

Sounds like poverty to me.
posted by rtha at 7:43 PM on August 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


Take any two cities (population 100,000 or more) a hundred miles apart and drive on the highway between them, then pull off at some funny little town with a name like Devil's Elbow and you can find this sort of thing. She could drive through Newburg, Missouri and see Autumn's family over and over again. Four churches for under five hundred souls, hallelujah. A market cum restaurant. Most of the houses, many of which have extensions that are built with shed materials and tarps, do not have named roads going to them, only paths with small rocks in the hills. Less than a dozen businesses have a front on Main Street, one of which is a florists' which, depressingly, seems to specialize in bereavement arrangements.

I was born in a town within rock-throwing distance of Autumn; it is so tiny it won't even show up on my GPS on finest detail. I never quite know what to think of people who are shocked! surprised! at poverty in little dirt towns, but I suppose that every ten years or so someone has to come wandering out of the cities and wonder precisely where and how those people staffing the no-name interstate gas station live.
posted by adipocere at 7:44 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


So, contessa, poverty only matters if it's extreme - according to you - and the only kind of photojournalism you want to see is of specific scenes that mean something to you. You're only interested in seeing the kind of suffering you already think you understand. You've figured out who deserves your compassion, and it's not people with corn-nuts. Am I understanding you correctly?
posted by prefpara at 7:45 PM on August 4, 2009 [12 favorites]


Metafilter: You're not poor enough, your pictures suck, how dare you put words with pictures, how dare you continue to take pictures when the worst parts are happening and OMG WON'T ANYONE THINK OF THE DOGS.

No matter how old you get Metafilter, you'll still be a privileged jackass on the inside, wont' you?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:46 PM on August 4, 2009 [62 favorites]


I'm glad for this thread, because I had the same uncomfortable reaction as others when I usually have a Good Sad over photoessays about poverty. Maybe it's the captions that strike me wrong - she smokes? She gets shit from her brother? She looks up the street and out the window? This all strikes me as well within normal, I'm afraid, and the decidedly abnormal stuff like sitting between the thighs of her molester uncle have really weird captions and I just don't trust the photographer.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:47 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I never quite know what to think of people who are shocked! surprised! at poverty in little dirt towns, but I suppose that every ten years or so someone has to come wandering out of the cities and wonder precisely where and how those people staffing the no-name interstate gas station live.

But if they don't do that, then who will? I would love to see Autumn's photo set myself, but the very nature of extreme poverty and isolation makes it a bit unlikely that something like these photos would emerge homegrown. Although it is admittedly much more likely now -- in an age of obsessive self-documentation on the internet -- than it would have been once.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:48 PM on August 4, 2009


the decidedly abnormal stuff like sitting between the thighs of her molester uncle have really weird captions

You wouldn't know that story unless there were captions.

The captions would work better if they were quotes from Autumn, instead of the poorly written descriptions the photographer is slapping on.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:52 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


There is something wrong with these photos. Something off.

If, as the photojournalist says, they have to roll their own cigarettes, why is there a photo where Autumn is holding a factory-made cigarette?

What kind of person watches someone slam someone's head into a kitchen counter and thinks "wow, time to take a photo"

Just, ugh
posted by kathrineg at 7:53 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Show me blocks and blocks of residential blight and dilapidation. Show me storefronts and factories and all manner of income-producing industry chained off, boarded up, spray-painted closed. Show me the school where a 17 year old is still in the 9th grade. Show me the books she's learning from. Show me what they do when they're not at home rolling cigarettes and inviting abusers into their houses. Really show me it.

What is this, an audition? American Poverty Idol?
posted by jonmc at 7:55 PM on August 4, 2009 [13 favorites]


The people I see in these photos have given up on life.

Contessa, you deserve your handle. Though you could change it to Marie Antoinette.
posted by shetterly at 7:57 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


for all the people harping on the junk food - junk food costs less than fruits and vegetables when you look at it from a calorie for your dollar sort of way.
posted by nadawi at 7:57 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Seems people have to be the right kind of poor to clear the self-righteous Metafilter reality filter. Just look like a sepia-toned dignified Dorothea Lange photograph. Live in the right simple, non-threatening box, don't eat meat or sugary crap, don't own pets, don't smoke cigarettes, don't engage in interpersonal violence, and it'll all fit into the picture of the way "poverty porn" should look. Otherwise, Ronald Reagan was right, they're just a bunch of pampered welfare queens driving shiny Cadillacs and bilking the rest of us God-fearing Americans out of our hard-earned cash.
posted by blucevalo at 7:59 PM on August 4, 2009 [16 favorites]


Well, to make myself clear, I think there is something very sketchy about the photographer but nothing particularly sketchy about the people whom she is depicting.

Yeah, so what, poor people don't eat superhealthy food all the time. It's not like Doritos cost $7 a pound.
posted by kathrineg at 8:10 PM on August 4, 2009


So, contessa, poverty only matters if it's extreme - according to you - and the only kind of photojournalism you want to see is of specific scenes that mean something to you. You're only interested in seeing the kind of suffering you already think you understand. You've figured out who deserves your compassion, and it's not people with corn-nuts. Am I understanding you correctly?

Er, no. Back up a moment. Read the words in the FPP. "Extreme poverty" wasn't the phase I would choose to describe this family's lot. That's my quibble - the descriptor in the FPP - not that this particular southeast-Ohio-family-on-the-verge isn't poor enough for me to be sufficiently shocked.

What is this, an audition? American Poverty Idol?

If there's subtext to be understood from any of the photos it simply isn't coming through. For every assumption one of us made about their diet or other habits, others are making assumptions about their opportunities (or lack of them). It is a failure of the photographer to show at least a peek into the wider world of their lives. Otherwise a whole lot of projecting goes on -- how much of poverty is generational? how much is through fate playing a string of bad cards in a row? how much is through not knowing any other way to live? how much is through passing by enough chances until you never get a chance again? We all - all of us - can't really say what the whole story is with this family. We only see a half of a peek and as others have pointed out, maybe not an entirely honest peek at that.

Contessa, you deserve your handle.


Oh, bugger off.
posted by contessa at 8:13 PM on August 4, 2009


It is a failure of the photographer to show at least a peek into the wider world of their lives. Otherwise a whole lot of projecting goes on -- how much of poverty is generational? how much is through fate playing a string of bad cards in a row? how much is through not knowing any other way to live? how much is through passing by enough chances until you never get a chance again? We all - all of us - can't really say what the whole story is with this family. We only see a half of a peek and as others have pointed out, maybe not an entirely honest peek at that.

In fairness, it's not a complete set; photos that illustrate the context may be coming. At the same time, I don't know that it's the photographer's responsibility to explain this family's life to us. Frankly, I'm not sure that's something she -- as a stranger who, looking at her website, is currently getting a job at the Boston Globe (...actually, I don't know working for a newspaper is a great way to avoid poverty, but I'm sure she'll be all right) -- really has the insights to show us anyhow, if that's something you actually can explain in photographs. It's show, not tell, right? And just because she is telling us something doesn't make her obligated to tell us more.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:25 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


A market cum restaurant

That's really showing desperation for something to eat.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:27 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


To be fair, Metafilter maintains high standards for poverty. Somewhere out there is a family of homeless freegan's, dumpster civing at Whole Foods or, more often, Trader Joe's, making jokes about how the prices are all the same in the dumpster. Their kids go to school and they supplement that with Harvard Extension School online inside their Ikea cardboard box on a previous generation Mac book picking up WiFi from a neighboring coffee shop. They let their kids take pictures on a Leica, post it to a donated Flickr account. They explain with a sigh that, while things are tough, they manage to get by on last month's copy of Virginia Quarterly (have you read it since they got that new editor?) and of course free lectures they take their kids to at The New School.

When we finally get a post on that family, please let me know.
posted by geoff. at 8:36 PM on August 4, 2009 [27 favorites]


To clarify my language in the FPP: the federal poverty level for a family of five in the US is 25,790/year, which most poverty experts will tell you is way too low. This family lives on an income that is 40% lower than that level. Maybe "extreme" is too, erm, extreme a word, but I don't think anyone could seriously say this isn't serious economic hardship.

Personally, I'm sort of divided on the ethics of this project, and the text is a bit clunky, but some of those photos are just an emotional sucker punch.
posted by lunasol at 8:38 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


i don't even have the calmness and restraint necessary to argue with the boneheaded suggestions of [...] "jeez, put down the camera already".

So you say, and so other people say too, in so many words, but there's a distinct lack of people who do possess such calmness and restraint, as no one's really replied to this argument.

I mean, for reals. Less severe questions of personal judgment have jeopardized photographers' reputations. Is that what the photographer wanted? Did she want this photograph to become the center of some kind of debate over journalistic integrity? Did she want this photograph--and the brief ensuing discussion of its ethics--to become the focal point of her career?

If not, we're left to assume a few things. Maybe the photo is staged. Maybe, as someone suggested above, they're really horsing around and the caption is hyperbolic. But the weird thing is that both of those interpretations imply that she does not expect people to believe her.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:38 PM on August 4, 2009


It is a failure of the photographer to show at least a peek into the wider world of their lives.

Actually, I liked this. The photo set is about one girl's life, not Poverty In America.
posted by lunasol at 8:39 PM on August 4, 2009


They explain with a sigh that, while things are tough, they manage to get by on last month's copy of Virginia Quarterly (have you read it since they got that new editor?) and of course free lectures they take their kids to at The New School.

They also use their well-worn public library cards to check out books on sticking it to the man. They've read The Republican War on Science and The God Delusion two or three times apiece.
posted by blucevalo at 8:42 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Er, no. Back up a moment. Read the words in the FPP. "Extreme poverty" wasn't the phase I would choose to describe this family's lot. That's my quibble - the descriptor in the FPP - not that this particular southeast-Ohio-family-on-the-verge isn't poor enough for me to be sufficiently shocked.

Oh, so you're just being pedantic. That's rich.
posted by elwoodwiles at 8:43 PM on August 4, 2009


"Extreme poverty" wasn't the phase I would choose to describe this family's lot. That's my quibble - the descriptor in the FPP - not that this particular southeast-Ohio-family-on-the-verge isn't poor enough for me to be sufficiently shocked.

I'm not sure what I'm picking up in your tone, but it's not coming across as particularly non-condescending. "Family on the verge"? "Peek into the wider world of their lives"? What are they, a museum exhibit?
posted by blucevalo at 8:45 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The photojournalism community is pretty small and it's difficult to pay a little visit to Metafilter, my all-time favorite community blog (because the folks on here are usually so clever and insightful and entertaining) and see someone I know and respect get eviscerated based upon ill-informed speculation.

There's nothing shady about the photographer. She has a track record of telling difficult, intimate stories exceptionally well. Check out both the multimedia pieces on her website to see examples of this if "Love Me" was not to your liking.

It's strange and sad that there exists such a distrust of what my colleagues and I do. I encourage everyone to take everything with a grain of salt, but a lot of you guys are choking on a whole rock of it, foaming at the mouth every time someone posts anything of a photojournalistic nature on Metafilter.

Sadly, there have been recent events to warrant the suspicion of the community. The French students who won a competition with a staged photo essay and Metafilter's own outing of a NYT Mag photo essay that lied about digital manipulation have cast a pall over the public's perception of photojournalism. I would like to point out (and this in no way excuses either incident) that neither incidents involved professional photojournalists.

Not that any of you know me or have reason to trust me, but I ask you politely to please take my word for it when I say that I feel comfortable personally vouching for Maisie Crow. She tells important stories artfully, truthfully and with compassion. If nothing else, she has succeeded in provoking some discussion on the topic of rural poverty in America.

Thanks, Metafilter.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 8:46 PM on August 4, 2009 [23 favorites]


I didn't want to do this here, UbuRovias, but ... I'm taking it back.

No, really. I am restoring it to its rightful place, just a tiny bit of Latin. Orgasm, or product thereof, needs to go back to being "come." Seeing it the other way makes me feel sick just looking at it.

I'm taking my cum back.
posted by adipocere at 8:46 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I too feel very squicky looking this kind of thing. I guess I'm displaying my middle-class guilt here, but it feels so exploitative and bourgeois to me. Like those travelling exhibitions of "savages" brought to London in the 19th century.

It has a zoo-like, scopophilic, almost fetish (not in the sexual sense) feeling to me. As others have said, give Autumn the camera, contextualise this in the community, the society etc. it comes from. Surely not every moment of Autumn's life is spent in some kind of poignant suffering or complete, photogenic ignorance. Reminds me of Steinbeck or Sinclair, without the humanity and the nearness that accompanies them. The photographer is always behind the camera.

I dunno. I just feel like this kind of poverty-porn is sadly made by - and for - people who have either forgotten (or more likely never known) what it is to be struggling, or even be different. Just seems so ignorant to me, that anyone needs a photo-set like this, or seems it offers some kind of value.

I'm not trying to insult anyone here.
posted by smoke at 8:53 PM on August 4, 2009


Hey TheGoldenOne, thanks for your comment. I too have been in the position of defending colleagues in the midst of a lot of misinformation and prejudice, and it's the worst.

Without confrontation, I really would like to get your insight on the "fighting" picture. If we are really to believe that the picture depicts a minor about to get her hair pulled, or her head smashed into a counter, or... something, what kind of consensus would there be in the photojournalism community about a colleague being the only witness to it?

I just recently saw that This American Life episode about the dude who took the picture of that lady in the hurricane. Although I'm not equivocating those two things, it is assault on a minor. That's not nothing.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:55 PM on August 4, 2009


orthogonality, I've been college poor, and I've been non-college poor, and although I'm from a middle-class background (well, working class/farming but the families that I actually grew up in were middle-class), I got to know the people that come from generations of poor, and there's a big-ass world of difference between multigenerational poverty and "apathy". Whatever the photographer's original intention, this is pity porn for bourgeoisie who are in the dumps because they won't be able to upgrade their 50" HDTV to a 56" for Christmas. Let me recommend The Road to Wigan Pier for further reading; make appropriate adjustments as necessary (e.g. coal mines--->big box retail stores, etc.).
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:00 PM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


If we are really to believe that the picture depicts a minor about to get her hair pulled, or her head smashed into a counter, or... something, what kind of consensus would there be in the photojournalism community about a colleague being the only witness to it?

If you look at that picture, you can see from the expression in the man's (boy's?) eyes that he's smiling. There's something about that picture that strikes me as "teenage couple goofing around [albeit a bit violently]" rather than "teenage girl getting abused."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:06 PM on August 4, 2009


Another reason why I thank God my dad got the hell out of East Kentucky, which is even worse than SE Ohio, and came to Cleveland, that beacon of employment and culture :p Not sure why people are so much more affected by pics of "white" rural poverty than the ghetto urban non-white poverty seen on full display on either side of Cleveland. Maybe because the trailer-dwellers are not seen on the evening news being arrested for murdering someone over a bad drug deal.
Of course, at least someone in the hood can take the bus to see or work in a nicer part of the city while the trailer dweller is stuck.
posted by greatalleycat at 9:17 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't want to quote Orwell, I hate quoting Orwell, I never quote Orwell unless I have a very good reason to, but you've forced my hand, Metafilter.
Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t.
Now excuse me while I dangle a small dog off the ground by its leash.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:17 PM on August 4, 2009 [18 favorites]


Hey roll truck roll,

The fighting picture has struck a nerve with a lot of people here and for good reason. Either they're just horsing around and the word "fighting" is unintentionally hyperbolic or they're actually fighting and Autumn is about to get pummeled.
This is the kind of thing that is debated endlessly among photojournalists. Personally, I haven't had the experience of bearing witness to anything that would merit my intervention and I'm not sure how I would react when confronted with such a situation. I would hope that in most cases, my training as a professional witness would remain intact and I could document the things I see and do my job.
At a certain point, instinct can override this training and a photographer may intercede, but it's usually reserved for cases of life and limb when no one else is around.
Check out the work of photographer Donna Ferrato for an in-depth look at domestic violence. She witnessed so much abuse and so much pain and in her own way, she did intercede. She published work that, at the time, brought a closeted and painful issue to the forefront. It provoked discussion and enabled and empowered a lot of women to come forward and put an end to their abuse.
We're trained as professional witnesses. It's painful to watch anyone suffer, yet we believe that by documenting it and telling the stories of the afflicted, we're doing a public service.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 9:18 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


"I feel bad for 'Autumn' and her family, but:

"* a two story house
"* filled with tchotchkes,
"* Mountain Dew and Doritos to eat,
"* a supply of smokes,
"* a curling iron,
"* clothing with advertising
"* apparently a family car,
"* etc."


There is no indication the car is Autumn's family's. Could be one of the many boyfriends or even the photographer's. Clothing with advertising is cheap as long as it's not this year's advertising as not all the clothes collected by charities goes to China for fibres. Same with the curling iron which isn't exactly a big ticket item in the first place. A two story house means nothing. I don't know about Ohio but there are place in Detroit where you could buy a whole block for the price of a barely running used car. Does she even live in a two story house? I don't think the blue/green house is her's as it doesn't match the white one and I can't see any indications the white house is two stories. Even the junk food isn't necessarily completely whack. Junk food tends to have a higher calorie load than healthy food for the same price and if they are using a food bank the stuff may come from there. I know it's crazy but people really donate that kind of thing.

"But for most students poverty is (hopefully) only temporary; they come from relatively well-to-do family, and with some luck, they'll get a middle-class life. Autumn has been poor all her life, and she doesn't see a way out of poverty."

And they always have the fall back of heading home if things go pear shaped. A backstop that shouldn't be discounted. And they generally have health insurance + health support for free or low cost at the university. Possibly cheap or subsidized transit that actually takes them where they want to go. Access to high quality IT infrastructure in a safe environment. And lots of other students around who aren't in poverty to mooch off of even if just for rides to the store or discarded furniture and electronics at year end. Etc. Etc. The two sets of living conditions aren't remotely similar despite equivalent incomes. I'd be shocked people equate them but I've seen it too often.

"I have to side with orthogonality here. Extreme poverty means 'What the fuck am I going to feed my family today; I have no money - as in, zero dollars and zero cents,' or 'Sleeping on the streets during the winter sure is rough, a large box would be awfully nice!' Not: 'I have a car to take me and several members of my family to a job, however modest the income it might bring.' Or: 'What's for lunch today -- shag tobacco, corn-nuts and high fructose corn syrup again?'"

Personally I think something else should describe people who don't even own a change of underwear and aspire to a cardboard box because it is so far beyond poverty it needs its own term. But how about gruesome or grisly poverty for now.
posted by Mitheral at 9:22 PM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


I guess you and I will have to disagree about the nature of public service.
posted by kathrineg at 9:23 PM on August 4, 2009


I didn't want to quote Orwell, I hate quoting Orwell, I never quote Orwell unless I have a very good reason to

Why should you hate quoting Orwell when Orwell has so much to say that's so apropos in so many situations? Regardless, I salute you -- what a perfect quote.
posted by blucevalo at 9:26 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I too feel very squicky looking this kind of thing. I guess I'm displaying my middle-class guilt here, but it feels so exploitative and bourgeois to me. Like those travelling exhibitions of "savages" brought to London in the 19th century.

So what's the alternative? No photos of poverty at all? Only "non-squicky" photos? Only non-exploitive, non-scopophilic photos?

It strikes me that it's an improvement to see things that make us feel "squicky" over the standard media/entertainment fare, which is virtually nothing but images that soothe, tranquilize, narcotize, numb, deceive, and congratulate us on our advanced status as a civilization.
posted by blucevalo at 9:36 PM on August 4, 2009


Oh, so you're just being pedantic. That's rich.

Hi! Welcome to MetaFilter!

I'm not sure what I'm picking up in your tone, but it's not coming across as particularly non-condescending.

Any condescension you detect is not directed toward the subjects of the photographs.

Just so this is clear, I'm getting that a lot of animus that's been directed toward my comments in particular is that I've not expressed pity for a girl or her family based on a dozen or so pictures. In fact, it would be wrong to assume that I have no compassion for them. That I got carried away in the nuts and bolts of the presentation of the link has come back to bite me has derailed the better part of this thread. I'll take some of the blame for that, but not all of it.

Here's a girl who willingly entered into a romantic relationship with a man who abused her. One would seriously have to be deep down in a fucking pit of self hatred to do that. The fact that she's surrounded by a family who knows what he's done, and hasn't stopped it, and indeed allows him to move in with them is so insane I don't have words for it. That makes me sad, for all of them, but most of all for Autumn, because she thinks that's all she's worth.

It makes me sad that it should take anyone three tries to pass the 9th grade - but especially sad for someone whom a HS diploma represents potential step up out of a terrible situation. It makes me sad that it won't matter soon anyway, because there's only so long you can stay in the public school system when you've hit a brick wall. It makes me sad that, for all we know, her soon-to-be-lack-of-secondary-school-qualifications might not even be on the top ten list of "Things that Autumn's parents are worrying about right now."

And yeah, it makes me sad that we see the family eating junk and smoking. Not because there's some requirement that they be especially frugal and stick to nuts and berries because they're poor, so that they can earn my and others' compassion, or because snack food and soda and smokes are a reward only for the 8-hour-per-day gainfully employed. It's because it affects your mind, and how you think of yourself. Regardless of convenience, or cents per calorie or whatever, if you ingest crap you're setting up a vicious cycle - of poor self image, of poor health, which in turn makes people turn to sugary foods to feel good again for a while. I imagine if you're supporting a household of several people on the back of one minimum wage worker, life must already suck pretty hard. It must be kind of difficult not to wallow in it sometimes, and I suppose I cannot understand why anybody in that situation would deliberately (or otherwise) do things to feel more crappy.

Last, I am mad because Autumn is the 2nd generation of this scale of poverty and, yes, neglect. For Autumn, her poverty is all about circumstance, and it's a hell of a thing to break out of. At the current rate, barring a miracle, I'm not optimistic for her.
posted by contessa at 9:41 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]



So what's the alternative? No photos of poverty at all? Only "non-squicky" photos? Only non-exploitive, non-scopophilic photos?


yeah, I do think that's a great alternative. To give the images, and the power to make the images over to the subjects themselves. To give the voiceless a voice, rather than speak for them.

It's not the poverty that makes me feel squicky, it's the creepy voyeurism, gorgeously saturated, aesthetic, photographic poverty that I am responding to.

It makes me question, did she take that picture because it represented something? Or because it was a great shot? Or worse, because it ticked some great boxes for the metro, bourgeois poverty discourse (sorry to come over all marxist on this)?

For me, pretending poverty doesn't exist is just as bad as a "do-they-know-it's-christmas?" cultural imperialism, and that's what I feel this kind of stuff ultimately is. It's questions nothing about the status quo.
posted by smoke at 9:51 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


what kind of consensus would there be in the photojournalism community about a colleague being the only witness to it?

No consensus, but as TheGoldenOne says, there's a lot of debate started by pictures such as that fight picture. There are plenty of stories of photojournalists putting down their cameras and helping or intervening when they can. Photographers (generally speaking) are humans first and photographers second. But, take a look at Maisie Crow and then take a look at the guy swinging at Autumn. Not knowing Crow personally, I'll hazard a guess that she might end up severely injured if she intervened, and would likely have worsened the situation for Autumn. Crow might be an amazing streetfighter or something, but even still, stepping into a violent confrontation such as that is a very dangerous move both for the victim and for the interlocutor.

One other possibility is that Maisie Crow intervening wouldn't have mattered one bit. That sort of violence (usually) isn't the sort of thing that goes on when strangers are around. You probably wouldn't see full-on, fists-swinging domestic abuse in the aisle of a grocery store. The photographer's access to the subjects is such that the subjects don't mind violently fighting while she's in the same room. I'd wager that they wouldn't have minded much or stopped if she said "Hey guys, knock it off" and the guy wouldn't have had a problem with hitting the photographer if she tried to intervene. The photographer's too intimately involved to be viewed as an outsider around whom the subjects would act politely.

I've not personally photographed such intimate and personal violence as this, but from photographers I know who have, they've said they usually make their exit as soon as possible and as soon as it's safe for everyone involved. It remember a situation a while back (in a teeny blurb in Newsweek in the late 90s, I think) involving a photojournalist following some terrorists in the Middle East. The terrorists said something to the effect of, "Hey Mr. Picture Man, take a picture of this," and then used their RPG to shoot at a plane. The photojournalist, not wanting to have his subjects turn on him, obliged in taking the picture, but then quickly left the scene as soon as he could. The violence had happened because he was there, and it was time for him to stop influencing the situation. But, it wouldn't have been his place to say "No, don't do that guys; I won't take a picture of it." The terrorists could well have attacked him or attacked the plane until it went down, just to prove a point. Heard another story about a photographer working in the projects in East New York (or possibly Bushwick). The thugs he was photographing had been having a good night, but one of their prostitutes did something wrong and provoked their ire. "Hey photographer, come take pictures of this" (guns are out, knuckles are ready). The prostitute is beaten severely, and the photographer is made to understand that he must take pictures or the pain will come his way, too. He made a quick exit as soon as he had an excuse and could get out safely. On the other hand, a photographer I know carried an elderly woman away from a bomb that had just exploded during the war in Lebanon a couple years ago; another (the only photographer on ground level) pleaded with an angry mob hunting down and killing christians in the streets a decade or two ago. I've gotten sidetracked.... Basically, photographer, like anybody else might, try to make a difference and put a stop to injustice directly when it's possible, otherwise, photographers hope and pray that their photos will save a life somewhere down the line once they're published.
posted by msbrauer at 9:56 PM on August 4, 2009 [9 favorites]


I too feel very squicky looking this kind of thing. I guess I'm displaying my middle-class guilt here, but it feels so exploitative and bourgeois to me. Like those travelling exhibitions of "savages" brought to London in the 19th century.

It's worse. These people are essentially dead. It's an exhibition of corpses.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:56 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


The people I see in these photos have given up on life.

Oh what bullshit. I doubt they even have any idea what you think "life" is supposed to be about.

It's because it affects your mind, and how you think of yourself. Regardless of convenience, or cents per calorie or whatever, if you ingest crap you're setting up a vicious cycle - of poor self image, of poor health

Not only is this bullshit, but it's actually crazy. It dosn't give people a negative self-image if they do things that you think are bad. There are people who think that if you don't go to church, you'll have a bad self image. If you have premarital sex, you'll have a bad self image. If you smoke weed, you'll have a bad self image, etc. They're all wrong. The only thing that will give you a bad self image is doing things that you think are bad.

And furthermore it's not all that clear that having low self esteem is really much of a problem. People in prison don't have any difference in levels of self esteem then those outside, for example. Apparently it makes little difference in actual outcomes.

Also, I think there's a somewhat of a religious component this obsession with food. People imagine that "pure" foods are wholly good while "impure" foods are wholly bad. Having your blood sugar levels fluctuate could probably impact mental capacity, I guess, but I don't think junk food is really that bad for your mind. In particular, due to the blood-brain barrier most of what ends up in your blood stream won't get to the brain. Only simple sugar, glucose, is used to power brain cells, so most other types of food won't have any impact on cognition at all -- except to the extent they impact blood sugar levels.
posted by delmoi at 10:15 PM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's strange and sad that there exists such a distrust of what my colleagues and I do. I encourage everyone to take everything with a grain of salt, but a lot of you guys are choking on a whole rock of it, foaming at the mouth every time someone posts anything of a photojournalistic nature on Metafilter.

...

Not that any of you know me or have reason to trust me, but I ask you politely to please take my word for it when I say that I feel comfortable personally vouching for Maisie Crow. She tells important stories artfully, truthfully and with compassion. If nothing else, she has succeeded in provoking some discussion on the topic of rural poverty in America.


I'm not willing to criticize Crow on her credibility or her actions. I know what photojournalists do, and it's a necessary and normal part of telling stories in the modern world. I personally don't feel this foto essay is as of good quality as others I've seen, mostly because it lacks narrativization. That is, apart from seeing scenes of her life, and impressions of her family's poverty, I'm not able to connect them together into a useful and worthwhile story. Of course, I know that Autumn has no future, partly because I've been told by Crow, but moreso because I know from elswhere that people living in these kinds of conditions lack opportunities. And that's my problem: if this essay is meant to be a piece of social realism, an exposition of a social problem, then it doesn't work properly because it relies on the meanings of others to make its case. You have to know what poverty is, and what poverty does, before you can understand who Autumn is, and what Autumn does.

So why hasn't the storytelling worked? It could be lack of ability on the part of Crow, but that's unfair to judge. I personally feel it might be her inability to really comprehend what Autumn's life is like, to truly "get it" as you might say. It's hard for poor people themselves to articulate just how the pervasive poverty is, and it must be even harder for a privileged individual to gain a real understanding of its effects. Talk of income levels and poverty lines clouds the real lives poor people lead, and the cover sheet to the essay is too pat, too naive, to convince me that Crow understands. It's not that photojournalists can't ever get it, they most definitely can, but I don't think it's happened here. That's why I suggested letting Autumn have the camera, as though the fotos undoubtedly would be worse in quality, she might capture the immanence of poverty in her world.

Of course, the alternative suggestion as to why the storytelling hasn't worked, and the argument you're most keen to reject, is simply that there was no story intended. If Crow never meant to illustrate a social problem, then did she seek to serve up these people's lives as some exotic fancy or cautionary tale? Photographers have done that plenty of times before, and people righteously label it 'pornography' - which it may be, after a fashion. But that kind of photography definitely is rootless, or decontexted, as only the values and experience of the audience matter. The subject is a commodity, and we get to use her in various ways which benefit us and how we see ourselves, but they're unconnected to her. I don't think Crow meant to do this, but I can recognize why people might consider it.

All that said, Crow won a prize for this essay, so I guess my opinions are just that - opinions. Feel free to disregard.
posted by Sova at 10:23 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Or worse, because it ticked some great boxes for the metro, bourgeois poverty discourse (sorry to come over all marxist on this)?

I don't buy your argument that this photography questions nothing about the status quo or that it expresses a "bourgeoius poverty discourse." Frankly, many of the comments in this thread satisfy a bourgeois poverty discourse much more successfully than any of the photographs they are ostensibly critiquing.
posted by blucevalo at 10:25 PM on August 4, 2009


To give the images, and the power to make the images over to the subjects themselves. To give the voiceless a voice, rather than speak for them.

How, exactly, is that going to work? Judging from the number of questions about how to work a camera on AskMe, some hypothetical poverty-stricken photo subject working a few jobs and addicted to some drug or other isn't going to have the time/money/inclination to make a coherent photo essay. Nor would the domestic abuser allow the victim ("she should be in the kitchen, " I hear the hypothetical abuser say) to spend the time photographing or writing, much less publishing the nitty gritty of their relationship.

I often worry, too, about the bias inherent in self-reporting. There's value in having an outsider's perspective. Of course, an outsider can have their own agendas....

Photojournalism, at it's best, is giving a voice to the voiceless. The kind of access to the subjects evident in Maisie Crow's piece doesn't just happen overnight or when Crow shows up at a randomly-picked trailer park and sticks her lens into a door. The amount of work that goes into meeting one's subjects and building their trust and learning their story is unbelievable. I guarantee that Crow has spent countless hours just talking with her subjects, trying to understand their circumstances and get the facts straight. Then, finally, she gets a chance to distill all of that into a visual (and textual) summation of it all. Some points get missed, some get dwelled on too much, but these are the facts as they were presented to the photographer and as the photographer then presented them to us in a narrative form. I think that's the best we can hope to get if we are to get this story at all. There are plenty here who would rather we not even get this story.

The other point here is that so much of photojournalism is just violence and drugs and voyeurism. That criticism can be justly leveled against photojournalism (or, at least, to the financial relationships between a public hungry for sensation and media companies hungry for money). I don't quite understand why one would want that sort of journalism--conflict, war, violence, drugs, and all the other human problems--to disappear completely, but I would love to see the other side of the balance filled with investigative photography addressing wealth, luxury, suburbia, comfort, and the middle class. Or, less radically and more often suggested, we should have more news about the good news amid the bad. There is a place for the success stories, surely, but the real power of journalism is letting people know about problems so that somewhere someone might be able to do something about it.
posted by msbrauer at 10:25 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is it just me, or do these pictures feel a little, Jeff Wall like, staged?
posted by DonnyMac at 10:26 PM on August 4, 2009



Regardless of convenience, or cents per calorie or whatever, if you ingest crap you're setting up a vicious cycle - of poor self image, of poor health, which in turn makes people turn to sugary foods to feel good again for a while.

Why regardless? 14,000 a year to survive for a family of five? That's slightly more than 1,000 per month --- figure say 1/3 of that is food, roughly $350, divided by 5, $70 a month. $2.33 per person per day, or figuring 2,000 calories per person per day, you've got a budget of $.0012 cents per calorie. Just over a penny per 200 calories. Referring to this handy chart: A glazed donut or snack-sized bag of pretzels will net you about 200 calories for just under a quarter (well over your budget, still). 200 calories of onions? $1.35. Broccoli? $1.93. Grapes? $2.55. Or respectively, approximately 100x, 160x, and 213x more than you ought to be spending. See also here.

So I dunno if it's so much a matter of feeling good, although I'm sure that plays into it too. Humans seek pleasure. But $350 a month for a family of five is no joke. Although I'm sure there will be someone along here shortly to explain that they ought to be growing a vegetable garden out behind the trailer and if they're not they deserve all they get.

Trevelyan's spirit walks abroad, waxing mightily in the full and holy reverence of his sons and daughters yet upon the earth...
posted by Diablevert at 10:27 PM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


First off, she's a student, and this is an ongoing project, so let's just say that for a photo student this is amazing work. I'd imagine that most student photo work wouldn't get posted here at all. The photos themselves are quite striking and she has, through her own access, giving us a glimpse into a world many of us don't see or think about. That said, the captions are problematic for all the reasons noted above- they just aren't well written and don't exactly inspire trust in their author. I'm surprised that all the religious iconography hasn't been mentioned - I'm guessing that's her "in" with these folks.. Just a guess tho.
posted by mike_bling at 10:31 PM on August 4, 2009


I found this empathetic and realistic, though perhaps not in the "heartbreaking" way, but more in the documentary way. I didn't grow up like this, but I am intimately connected through marriage with families like this here in decidedly non-rural Wisconsin. (When I was growing up they were hicks; today they self-profess the name "redneck" thanks to Jeff Foxworthy.) Some do better than others financially, but apples never seem to fall far from trees. The rough-and-tumble romances of the trailer park seem to be a pathology more than a culture, but inescapable for all that.

These are people whose shot at success depends on a vet tech certificate at a technical college. For this level, that's ambition, and getting there is seen as slightly mad by one's peers. Most seem to aspire to careers at Wal-Mart or Arby's.

Even those that are hard working are often set back by things that seem inconsequential to others. It's tragic, but it's also just numbingly normal. I feel disconnected from this culture but not all that distant from its maw. I have no health insurance, no dental, and struggle financially without a plethora of white-collar jobs -- and I have a resume. I can imagine a suburban and corporate life because I've lived it. I can't imagine what it's like to be unable to imagine that.
posted by dhartung at 10:32 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I imagine if you're supporting a household of several people on the back of one minimum wage worker, life must already suck pretty hard. It must be kind of difficult not to wallow in it sometimes, and I suppose I cannot understand why anybody in that situation would deliberately (or otherwise) do things to feel more crappy.

Why not do things to feel more crappy? Seriously, what else is there to lose?
posted by blucevalo at 10:40 PM on August 4, 2009


Why regardless? 14,000 a year to survive for a family of five? That's slightly more than 1,000 per month --- figure say 1/3 of that is food, roughly $350, divided by 5, $70 a month. $2.33 per person per day, or figuring 2,000 calories per person per day, you've got a budget of $.0012 cents per calorie. Just over a penny per 200 calories.

You don't happen to work for Verizon, do you? $2.33 per person per day at 2,000 is 0.001165 dollars. Or 0.1165 cents per calorie. 1 penny = 8.5 calories. and 200 calories would need to cost less then 23¢

(I have no idea where you came up with 1 penny for 200 calories figure)

But yes, junk food is far cheaper per calorie then healthy stuff
posted by delmoi at 10:44 PM on August 4, 2009


I often worry, too, about the bias inherent in self-reporting.

No doubt about it there's bias in self-reporting, but it's out there, it's in front of the camera - it's typically something we see and can engage with. When a photographer remains out of frame, so to speak, I feel it's much trickier, we don't know what baggage they're bringing to the film, and don't know whether - or how - it's related to the on-film baggage.

I do think your characterisation of those communities being unable or unwilling to document is a little harsh. Anthropologists have been getting all kinds of communities to self-document for decades - I don't think the socio-economic status of a community is any impediment to it efforts to document, whether by film or any other means. Certainly, the resultant media will be mediated in many ways - but I would rather see through that glass, darkly, than something a little too crystalline.

It's a very tricky territory, and I think this kind of interrogation is very important have around the illusive visual media. It reminds me of Errol Morris' blog.

Certainly, I don't think there's a silver bullet, but I guess ultimately I'm wary when I sense that one is being presented - which is what I personally get from that series.

I'm enjoying this discussion very much.
posted by smoke at 10:49 PM on August 4, 2009


I'm in no position to judge whether the poverty here qualifies as 'extreme' or not, or whether it's deserved or not, or the appropriateness of what we might suppose to be the photographer's motivations. There is no point bloviating about it in post after post.

But they certainly are poor, which makes their lifestyle informative (for me) to see.

Cheers
posted by magic curl at 11:09 PM on August 4, 2009


i wonder what autumn's neighbors would say about them - i wonder what autumn's neighbors would say if they knew that their community was being represented by her

i wonder what my grandparents would say about them being poor when they raised 9 kids on a dirt farm that didn't have an indoor toilet, electricity until the late 30s, a radio until the mid 40s and lived to see 7 of those 9 kids become college graduates

i wonder what people here would say if i told them there are people just like this within 5-10 miles of them, no matter where they are and it's just sensationalism to claim they're from southwestern ohio as if poor white people can't live anywhere else

i guess the thing that gets me about this is that there are people just as poor as autumn who don't have the disgusted, pissed off at the world look that she does - there are people just as poor as autumn who aren't pigging out on doritos and combos and mountain dew - there are people just as poor as autumn who are going to keep trying until they're no longer as poor as her, even if they've been emotionally abused, yes, and raped by their relatives, and on crutches for life, too

it's sad to see someone who may well be pissing her life away but you know something? - if she does, that's how she's chosen to deal with the situation, and it's still her responsibility - and don't give me that "she doesn't know better" routine, because there are people in her neighborhood who are faced with similar circumstances who are going to do better than that

what i resent here is the not so subtle suggestion that the great mass of poor white people are all helplessly oppressed people who can't but help repeat their tragic and inbred family histories - or that there aren't people from middle and even upper class households who are going to end up in far worse living situations than autumn because of their choices

yep, compassion porn served with a dollop of class superiority

good thing someone with autumn's level of anger isn't given a political education and a gun to go with it, isn't it?

remember lynndie england? - yeah, girls like autumn will probably work out very well for the next war we fight ... unless your local wingnut militia get to her before the army recruiters do

but i'm just rambling here, i don't really have any answers, except to say that there isn't a town in the midwest that doesn't have a lot of people like this - that it really would be a great idea for autumn to have the camera - that there probably is a decent supermarket within driving distance of them - and yeah, they almost certainly do have a car to get there - at least most of the people i've known at poverty level have a car- and they buy doritos and combos because they taste good

frankly, i think autumn might be an unpleasant person to be around - and a bit of a bullshit artist, too - her relative raped her but she's still willing to sit in his lap? - doesn't sound like the relative rape victims i've known

what better symbol for poor white people could our photojournalist devise? - hidden sex and incest mixed in with random violence, animal torture and junk food, just the sort of gratuitous freak show that's guaranteed to make us toss a few pennies into the cup and then walk really quickly away from the exhibit as a hopeless case

there are cases when a picture is worth far, far less than a thousand words and this is one of them

here they are, in the national media, presented just as some aspiring to the elite person has decided they should be presented and they don't get to say one fucking word for themselves - or have their neighborhood or town presented in a way that would provide any context - or provide evidence that not everyone in a similar position is as "hopeless", if hopeless means having a few bad moments while some photojournalist elects to present them as a plea to please please WUV ME

it's true, and sad, and very bad, and yet it's just plain fucking wrong, too

for god's sake put the camera down for a minute and let these people talk for themselves - empower them, don't just exhibit them
posted by pyramid termite at 11:24 PM on August 4, 2009 [12 favorites]


southeastern ohio, i mean
posted by pyramid termite at 11:25 PM on August 4, 2009


frankly, i think autumn might be an unpleasant person to be around - and a bit of a bullshit artist, too - her relative raped her but she's still willing to sit in his lap? - doesn't sound like the relative rape victims i've known

it's funny, of all the pictures in this series, that is the one that rang the most true and reminded me the most of the experiences i've been around my whole life.
posted by nadawi at 11:30 PM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


the very nature of extreme poverty and isolation makes it a bit unlikely that something like these photos would emerge homegrown

Largely community-driven: Hope from the Shadows, photography by Vancouver's homeless. Hack the url to view the base site and links to more photos.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:19 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


What kind of person watches someone slam someone's head into a kitchen counter and thinks "wow, time to take a photo"?

A photojournalist. Duh. Come on people, this isn't exactly rocket science. People who pride themselves as journalists don't react the way you would react. That's why they can be journalists.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:23 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Let Autumn have the camera, I dare you. Each photo of the favela photographer at the bottom is a link to the images from their camera.

Previously.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 12:52 AM on August 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Some of these images are quite bleak.

The photo of Autumn on her father's lap is grim. Those are the faces of hard living.
posted by bwg at 12:58 AM on August 5, 2009


I just want to say that often the level of seething victim-hate on Metafilter shocks even me, Mr. Super-Cynical Avenger.
posted by Avenger at 1:00 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Avenger, that's an exaggeration. Is there actually any evidence of "hate" here? Did anybody call for autumn to be shot? The closest I can see is a (thin) debate over the depth of hardship this family's actually in, and how honestly the photos portray it.
posted by magic curl at 2:18 AM on August 5, 2009


"Let Autumn have the camera, I dare you".

At the cost of seeming to derail the thread, I am hereby plugging a (UK) charity which does exactly that, Photovoice.

Their idea is to give cameras to marginal members of society both in the UK (Asylum seekers, rough sleepers) and in the developing world to give them a voice. IMHO it's particularly powerful in the developing world because you get the perspective of someone who is not, you know, a white English-speaking male photographer on assignment in that country for 48 hours.
You can have a look at some of the projects here.

I'd link to some powerful pics, but it's a Flash gallery.
I am not a photographer (except in my dreams) but this is one charity I always remember to give money to.

/derail end
posted by MessageInABottle at 2:38 AM on August 5, 2009


Lost in Plain Sight is a better example of Maisie Crow's photo journalism, IMO.

Love Me feels awkward with the captions written by Crow. If they were instead quotes from Autumn or her description of what's going on the photos, the project would be more focused.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:22 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


The style of the photos is better suited to fashion editorial work.
It's a shame that such a serious subject has been reduced to such trite, "pretty" images.
This work is not photojournalism it is self-centered portfolio work w/o any concern for the subject.
I see photo shows every weekend - this is dreck.
I would like to hear more about the young woman who is the central object in these photos.
posted by hooptycritter at 3:47 AM on August 5, 2009


I’m sitting here enjoying my morning coffee and checked out Metafilter as I usually do. This was the first link I clicked on, even though I probably should have known better. I’m from roughly the same area as Autumn – southcentral instead of southeastern – and I tend to be critical of art that treats the subject matter of Appalachian poverty. I didn’t think this was poorly done. It wasn’t prize-winning, exactly, for some of the reasons others have pointed out, but I was still moved. (On a side note: I'm really bored with all the amateur sleuths who turn every photography post into a Nancy Drew photoshop mystery. Sure, maybe interesting in the case of the New York Times, but does it matter here?)

Then I clicked on the comments. Wow. Moved to rage and it’s 7 in the morning. Who are you people? Did the choice of the adjective “extreme” block your compassion receptors or something?

For those of you claiming she (and the rest of her family) just needs to buck up and get a job, I’m curious: how in control of your lives are you? You’ve never been stuck in a relationship? Prone to any bad patterns of behavior? Unhappy with your job? You don’t drink too much? Or watch too much tv? Or spend too much time on the internet? You’re all not only productive workers for the machine of capitalism, but also lead rich lives in which you feel emotionally and creatively fulfilled?

Well, good for you. As for me, I’m not quite there yet, and I didn’t face nearly the amount of obstacles of the people in the photos – Autumn never had a chance. Unlike most of you (I’m generalizing about MeFi readers, but I think it’s a safe bet), she had a sub-par education from kindergarten on up – I went through those school systems and know how terrible they are. Unlike you, she never had a steady diet of healthy foods. Unlike you, she had no close positive role models. Unlike you, she probably witnessed and was a victim of physical and emotional abuse on a nearly daily basis. Do you have any clue as to how much all of this taken together warps you? How it structures your psychology? That you think she or any of her relatives (who probably went through the same) should be able to just up and change their lives is mind-blowing.
I hope you choke on your own privilege.
posted by signalandnoise at 4:14 AM on August 5, 2009 [28 favorites]


Another way of doing this project would be to choose 2 or three different girls, from different socio-economic backgrounds and photograph them in similar situations as they go about their life, i.e. getting, eating breakfast, how they spend their day. The contrasts and similarities would be interesting.

Another idea: photography just the middle class or rich. It's not as if they aren't above fucked up situations or relationships. There's an underlying current of class basis with these projects, i.e. "They're poor, so of course they're fucked up," when in reality rich or middle class can be more fucked up.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:33 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


I come from the "trailers" on both sides of the family. My mother married up (she met a businessman while working as a waitress at a bbq joint) and, uh, continued marrying up, fortunately for me. I only dabbled in poverty on the weekends or holidays, so I'm sure that my point of view is probably very skewed, but these photographs reminded me what it was like to feel like an outsider within my own family, how tragic it felt to watch my cousin get pregnant at fifteen, or my younger (half) sister be held back two grades because her mother couldn't be bothered to take her to school, or my father lose his construction job (again) because he couldn't afford to register his car, and he risked being arrested for other outstanding warrants if he got pulled over.

I imagine that the photographer felt equally disconcerted watching Autumn's life unfold, because it's just odd to see someone who is ostensibly just like you, who could have *been* you if life circumstances had been a bit different, but with choices so limited and experiences so incomprehensible that they might as well be living in a different country. So I can see why her commentary was a bit awkward -- I mean, how do you explain that this girl is sitting in the lap of the man who tried to rape her, really, without writing an entire novel, because that's about what it would take to fully flesh out the motivations and social dynamics at play that would make such an inexplicable act understandable.

The pictures, though...I don't really see fashion editorial work, or staged exploitation. I see my cousin and my sister and my father, and if it makes people uncomfortable, I understand. It makes me uncomfortable, too.

I just wish that the photographer had managed to work in some more cheerful shots - it's not all dysfunction and Doritos, you know? Hopefully she'll be able to include them as she adds to her work; one of the aspects of my family's lives that I felt most jealous of when I visited was the sense of community and togetherness that I never really felt back in the suburbs.
posted by jnaps at 4:53 AM on August 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


The photos are ok, solid poverty-porn-esque photography, which is as valid now as when it was first invented. The captions, though, as others have noted, were painfully bad, and really detracted from the photography.

I work with, and have as close neighbors, some people who could be family members of the girl in this project. Breaking out of that sort of situation is incredibly difficult, far harder than "just get a job and eat organic food." And part of what is so hard about it you can see hints of in these photographs -- poor people are each other's safety net, and everyone I know who is poor like that is constantly taking in friends who have lost their house, kids who need a break from an abusive situation, and so on, even though they can least afford it. They see it as the right thing to do, and it's important to ensure reciprocity because next month it could be you needing a place to sleep and by then the person who slept on your couch will have a place of their own and will welcome you in.

But it's also expensive, especially on a limited budget, to feed and house all the ex-boyfriends, cousins, and broke friends who pass through. And the better you are doing, the more those demands surface -- to break out of poverty and lead the whole middle class life of deferred gratification can mean turning your back on the people who most rely on you, and can mean embracing a public rejection of the central values of everyone you most care for.
posted by Forktine at 5:34 AM on August 5, 2009 [14 favorites]


I encourage everyone to take everything with a grain of salt, but a lot of you guys are choking on a whole rock of it, foaming at the mouth every time someone posts anything of a photojournalistic nature on Metafilter.

Personally I find my mouth gets extra-frothy when the website of said photojournalist is emblazoned with the word photojournalist with an about the artist section before they've hardly gotten any content up.

And speaking of content... a piece on poverty. Wow, how engaging. How inspiring. Thanks for bringing the real into my life. No, no, it doesn't look like every other piece on American poverty that I've ever seen.

This is coffee-table photography. A big book of photos without any purpose all tangentially related to a topic. Photojournalism tip: tell a fucking story. And not, "See Jane. Jane is poor. Poor, poor, poor."

Like this, or this. (warning: graphic)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:44 AM on August 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


For those of you quibbling about the food choices this family is making let me point something out to you. The items that are stocked in the family's pantry are those that are found at a typical corner store. I'm not sure that many of you have actually been to a 'hood, or to Appalachia, but in the very small towns, and in the very worst ghetto's the nearest, real, grocery store is miles and miles away.

If you don't have transportation, getting to the store is too onerous a task. So you have people walking to the store to get whatever it is that will make the kids stop whining about being hungry.

When I worked at the school in the 'hood, it used to frost me no end that the kids that were entitled to the 'nutritious' free lunch (starch and fat) would elect to eat Doritos from the vending machines.

This isn't a taste thing, it's a status thing. Some kids would rather go hungry than show that they get the free lunch. Having change for Doritos means that "I'm not as poor as you think I am." Plus, have you seen the lunch? Gross.

It's no secret that the poorest people are the fattest people. Like everything, even what's in the pantry is political. Veggies are for the wealthy and Doritos and Mountain Dew are the staples of white, rural, poverty.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:00 AM on August 5, 2009 [4 favorites]



Like this, or this. (warning: graphic)

God damn it! Why did I click on those links? Maybe my wife is right and I really am a masochist. Ugh.
posted by milarepa at 6:02 AM on August 5, 2009


There's a lot of post-processing in this work, and it's very well done, to give it color tones and lighting patterns that wouldn't be out of place in a commercial shoot. It may not have been the best choice, as it's setting a lot of viewers to "disdainful-asshole-mode," which is, for some, a natural defense to commercial photography. It's also really easy to hate on poor white people - I think this is because we're forced to confront that the same class forces that conspire to keep black and latino families in their place are also applied to white families, and this disrupts our notions of racial exceptionalism ... so we make excuses. They're just lazy. They're not all that poor if they can afford doritos and tobacco factory floor sweepings. Only mentally ill people sleeping on park benches are "extreme poor", these people aren't as good, and should be called "awesomely poor," etc, etc. I would get angry, but... well, no buts. I am angry. Still, let's talk more about the merits as photojournalism, especially the notion that these look staged.

It's weird how many iconic photographic portraits are snapped on the fly, products of the time and place and circumstances under which they were photographed. Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother", Steve McCurry's "Afghan Girl" - these are so intimate and intense and beautiful, they appear staged. This is because they were made by completely kick-ass photographers, and Masie Crow, while no Lange, ain't half bad, neither. (As an Ansel Adams fan, using post-processing to control lighting, texture and color is not only fair game, but laudable... enhancing what is there to match what was seen in the artist's eye.)

Even when a portrait is staged, it's often no damn good unless there's real life and emotion present as well. When Yosuf Karsh took his iconic portrait of Winston Churchill, he couldn't get the old bastard to settle down. He was preening and mugging for the camera, posing and posturing with his cigar. Karsh marched over, and snatched away the cigar, and this is what got Churchill to show his true fire and intensity, just for a fleeting instant, and it was enough - the decisive moment, captured in a studio of all places.

So, no, none of this even remotely appears staged... the emotions and moments are too genuine.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:09 AM on August 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


If they were instead quotes from Autumn or her description of what's going on the photos, the project would be more focused.


Brandon Blatcher ,

Or maybe contessa could have a go at the captions? "Here is Autumn suppressing a grin while hiding diamonds in her mouth?".
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:45 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


This thread is disgustingly classist and "Love Me" is a tremendously patronizing title.

That being said, these photos definitely struck a nerve. Especially the two about sexual violence. There's some raw truth in them, for sure.
posted by lunit at 7:00 AM on August 5, 2009


It's always so odd to me that people see this sort of photography as necessary to understand or come into contact with poverty or the poor, they are always around you, are they invisible unless they are photographed?


What kind of person watches someone slam someone's head into a kitchen counter and thinks "wow, time to take a photo"?

A photojournalist. Duh. Come on people, this isn't exactly rocket science. People who pride themselves as journalists don't react the way you would react. That's why they can be journalists.


I don't think she's a bad person, but I suppose her labeling of herself as a photojournalist doesn't lead me to unquestioning approval of all of her behavior or motivations.

I hope that some of the proceeds from this project go to her underage subject(s).
posted by kathrineg at 7:01 AM on August 5, 2009


And.

Jesus somebody please take their dogs away.

I will never understand people who have more compassion for animals than for people.
posted by lunit at 7:01 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jody,
I don't think there's any need to ATTACK attack contessa. Sure, disagree with her, but I doubt she's horrible person who bathes in the blood of poor people every morning.

Contessa,
The focus on Autumn is a solid choice. As I look through the photographs, I astounded by the many faces that Crow has captured of her. Though she's 17, she sometimes has the face of a six year old, such as when she's sitting in her father's lap, whom you'll note isn't hugging her and frankly looks dead. In the image of her smoking, which I can't link to, since Crow seems to have passed the Building a Shitty Web Interface 101 class that most photographers take, Autumn looks old. Sure she's 17, but that look in her face illustrates that a harsh mask and outlook is already baked into the soft features of her face. The focus on this one particular person, especially someone on the cusp of being an adult vividly shows not only how this life has affected her, but what her effect on life will be like down the road.

Someone up above mocked the last photo, with Autumn looking out of the window and how ordinary such a act is. Did they miss the broken and crudely patched up window? The odd tilt of the photo, which seems to drag the photo down, or the prison like atmosphere on Autumn's suddenly young looking face? Sometimes it seems art shows us more about ourselves than other people.

Is this project some astonishingly new take on photographing the poor, as Civil_Disobedient laments? No, it's fairly ordinary in that regard but that's ok, I think people need to realize just common these situations are.

As the complaint of "How dar she label herself a photojournalist" that seems pretty petty. She's clearly staked out what time of photographer she wants to be and is pursuing that goal. Perhaps it's trite or naive, but frankly I salute her desire to firmly map out where she wants to go with her talents.

Finally, Miss Crow, if you're reading this, for the love of god, drop the captions or let them stay as a learning point of what not to do. The captions inject simplistic voyeuristic quality to the project. And please build a website that allows people to link to individual images.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:17 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the FPP and all the good links in the comments. This'll keep me busy during breaks all day.
posted by ServSci at 7:27 AM on August 5, 2009


For those of you claiming she (and the rest of her family) just needs to buck up and get a job, I’m curious:

regardless of the real difficulty in doing so, i'm curious, too: what alternative solution do you offer them?
posted by pyramid termite at 7:28 AM on August 5, 2009


Jody,
I don't think there's any need to ATTACK attack contessa. Sure, disagree with her, but I doubt she's horrible person who bathes in the blood of poor people every morning.


Brandon,
Not sure if "ATTACK attack" is a typo - of whether that's your deliberate emphasis?

Anyway, my comment was hyperbole. (It was also "coming from a place of humor" to sorta quote from the sublime Burn After Reading.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:50 AM on August 5, 2009


what alternative solution do you offer them?

There currently isn't one. Most of the high paying jobs (>$10/hr.) for people like this were construction or skilled trade related. With immigration and the economy those options are simply gone for the most part. From my time with similar folks in rural SC, they are painfully aware of the lack of options and this leads to some poor choices.
posted by anti social order at 7:57 AM on August 5, 2009


The "poorer than thou" stuff and snark and condescension in this thread is disgusting. Thanks, jnaps, Forktine, Ruthless Bunny, and nadawi for some sensemaking.

It reminds me of college, without you know, the books and classes.

The hell? Jesus, I don't even have a coherent response to this.
posted by desuetude at 8:01 AM on August 5, 2009


It's always so odd to me that people see this sort of photography as necessary to understand or come into contact with poverty or the poor, they are always around you.

Speak for yourself. In America, anyway, depending on where you live, it is possible to lead a sheltered and/or incurious suburban life ignorant to the reality of modern American poverty. I’m a native Chicagoan who went to high school in a manicured Orange County coastal suburb in the early 1980’s where “poverty” meant a kid who didn’t own a sherbet rainbow of Izod shirts, and "the underclass" was assumed personified by Tootie on "Facts of Life." For some people, seeing photos like Crow's in a gallery, or on the web, is as close as they knowingly come to American poverty, but kudos to you for being so much more worldly.
posted by applemeat at 8:24 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Amazing responses here.

Photography really is one of the handful of jobs that everyone thinks they know how to do because, as my friend once said, "every asshole has a Nikon Fuckpix camera."
posted by girlmightlive at 8:57 AM on August 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


So, I RFTphotos after reading the thread, and what I suspected was true: Amber's home, circumstances, and attitudes are pretty average and unremarkable compared with conditions in my corner of rural central Michigan. People like Amber's family here not only don't consider themselves "extremely" poor but would say they were "middle class" (in part, that's thanks to the pols and media virtually eliminating the term "working class" from the language and using "middle class" to mean anyone without a six-figure income).

I think that's what some commenters here may mean -- not that Amber isn't poor but that this kind of manageable-subsistence-level poverty is really common and familiar to some of us. There's a house and family similar to Amber's across the street from me, another one down the block. There are several far, far worse ones around as well, and right next to those are "beat-up but decently tended" joints like mine and the occasional $350,000 log house or McMansion on a few acres (350 grand is very, very expensive for this area).

I suspect that if we heard more of Amber's own voice, it'd be way less desperate and tragic than you might imagine (which is not to say her situation isn't sincerely unfortunate). Many of my neighbors and students would definitely like more income, job opportunity and choice, especially in the current hellacious Michigan economy, which was horrible long before last fall. But they are basically satisfied with the way they live in terms of day-to-day routine, foods, types of jobs, leisure activities. The healthcare issues are a big problem -- it's totally an everyday thing to go to a local store, restaurant, or other business and see a homemade collection jar or flyer for a benefit event to raise funds for someone's cancer treatment or other big-ticket medical problem.

So I'm not saying that these people aren't poor, not at all, or suggesting that they're martyrishly accepting of their struggles and lot in life. The main difference between poor/working-class and middle-class folks hereabouts is that the middle-class ones have more money, more room, and fewer broken windows; the two have a lot of values and culture in common. Amber's wanting to leave her "hellhole" reminds me of what I hear from a lot of my college students -- they find small-town life boring as all fuck and want to live where there's more stuff to do (i.e., a mall, more bars, a bigger Wal*Mart -- that's not snark; they actually mention those things).

Also, I hate to break it to you, but a large chunk of the American population from most socioeconomic classes happily and voluntarily subsists on Doritos, Mountain Dew, fast food, Chef Boyardee, and nary a fresh vegetable. That's not necessarily a sign of deprivation. And we all know that incest/molestation and domestic violence aren't the special province of poor folks. I guess what annoys me about the theme of the "essay" is not only that the photographer is superimposing her own narrative on the photos instead of letting Amber's voice come through but that she seems to be folding all sorts of trite assumptions into her vision of what "poverty" is. At least in my area, if she visited a family whose household income was $80,000 a year, she'd be likely to see a life very much like Amber's, just less frayed around the edges.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:58 AM on August 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


Put me in the group of people unimpressed by the photography or captions. I expected great photos, what I got needed the captions to even make sense.

Yes, it's possible to grow up privileged in this country and never see people living in poverty. But to remain ignorant of its existence is pure apathy and selfishness. I chose to spend my entire adult working life working with people in poverty. I've seen people living in situations, in the middle of Houston, 4th largest city in the country, that blew my mind and might blow yours. Forget all the talk about Appalachia. It's everywhere. 20 kids packed into a structure you can barely call a house with no discernable separation of inside from outside, eating off of filthy floors, babies sitting in diapers filled with their own waste, babies drinking milk from bottles kept in cool water of melted ice because there's no power.

It's all around you, it's insidious, these are our neighbors. We want to push them to the outside, the other, the foreign. We don't know how to prevent it and so we want to forget them. I don't know what people in generational poverty need, but it's more than mediocre photo essays.
posted by threeturtles at 8:59 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


In America, anyway, depending on where you live, it is possible to lead a sheltered and/or incurious suburban life ignorant to the reality of modern American poverty. I’m a native Chicagoan who went to high school in a manicured Orange County coastal suburb in the early 1980’s where “poverty” meant a kid who didn’t own a sherbet rainbow of Izod shirts, and "the underclass" was assumed personified by Tootie on "Facts of Life."

I went to an on-its-last-legs inner-city high school on the other side of the tracks in LA County, and in my experience, applemeat is resonating with that description of OC high schools in the 1980s. Folks in the "good" high schools on the other side of town (not far away, maybe 3 or 4 miles tops) didn't know diddly-squat about the poverty on the shit side except to ridicule it and stay as far away from it as humanly possible. I suppose that's why some of the smug assumptions in some of these comments get under my skin, because they remind me of that patronizing, bordering-on-hostile attitude that I ran into whenever I was forced to interact with the Better Classes. I could write a book about the class segregations that existed back then, and exist even more strongly now that the "bad" side of town has become gentrified, in my city of 100,000 people. And that's just one city.

And sure, remaining ignorant of poverty in this country is selfish, but that's just the surface. Media and other cultural mechanisms act very persuasively and consistently to compel people to ignore. Ignorance is not just simply an individual act of selfishness, it's a collective societal selfishness, and more than that, a compulsion to keep poverty invisible.
posted by blucevalo at 9:24 AM on August 5, 2009


I hope what I want to say about this comes out right. It'll probably sound condescending and patronising, which is exactly what I'm trying to avoid. But I speak as someone who dragged myself out of my own poor (UK) white trash background into the middle class.

I know this part of Ohio well - my late fiancé lived in a small town near Athens, OH and I still visit his family. The poverty is real. I’ve seen it. There's no work for many, many people. The land’s too hilly to be suitable for the large-scale industrial farming that you have to do to earn a good living from the land. There’s hardly any manufacturing industry any more. There’s a definite divide in that part of the world between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Tourists are catered for, with antique malls, cafés and coffee shops, souvenir shops. Can you see that twee little tea shop employing Autumn, her turning up to work with a bruise on her face after another dispute with a boyfriend? No, I didn’t think so.

There is a lot of space, so yes, people will live in houses which to urban dwellers might seem ridiculously spacious. And they have their TVs, their tobacco, and a car. A car is not a luxury in SE Ohio, it’s a necessity. There’s no public transport. You live four miles outside town. How else are you to get anywhere?

Living standards have changed – and yes I do understand that if someone was really, really poor they wouldn’t be able to afford a television, but the fact that someone has a TV doesn’t mean they’re not poor. I mean, FFS, Autumn and her family are (probably) not people who’d spend their evenings reading library books or singing songs round the piano, are they? I bet the TV goes on when the first person gets up and stays on until the last one goes to bed. It’s part of the problem – showing them a world they don’t belong to and never will.

[This is not a US-centric thing – I used to live and work in an area where there were lots of British families you could compare with Autumn’s – they all smoked, they all had TV, many of them had cars (not a rural area though), the wore the (fake) designer gear bought in a street market, they lived on kebab (gyro) and chips.]

The real poverty, though, is not the material kind, it is the poverty of the soul – the lack of aspiration, of ambition, of imagination, of esteem. A better life can only happen if you become the next American Idol or win the lottery. Autumn and those like her don’t understand that if they work hard, get an education, get an entry-level job, stick at it, learn to get up and show up on time every day, go to night school, get a better job, strive for improvement, then a better life can be had. It’s a mindset of ‘those things aren’t for the likes of us’ so there’s no point even trying.

A few years ago when I was in Ohio, the day after Christmas I helped some friends cook and serve dinner for anyone who wanted/needed it in a church hall. It was absolutely heartbreaking. I thought we might get 4 or 5 people. There was probably 35-40. A few seniors who were on their own, but the majority were people who really had nothing – no money, no hope, no safety net.

I was a bit of a curiosity – they don’t get many English visitors in that part of the country – and instead of serving, I ended up sitting down and talking with people instead. I tried not to be like Lady Bountiful, but I expect I came across like that. I remember particularly one man who asked me a lot of questions about England (he couldn’t believe the price of gas) and he told me about his daughter. She was 14 and I asked him what she wanted to do when she left school. He said she liked hairdressing and I said that would be a good career for her, she could go to Beauty School, work in a salon. From the look on his face, I could see that I might as well have been talking Swahili. It hadn’t occurred to him that his daughter might be able to do that.

When I was talking to my friend (a nursing professor) about it on the way home, she said that it was rare, extremely rare, for her to have a student from a poor family, despite various initiatives designed to help them through college.

Where does it come from, the absence of ambition? I don’t know. Anyway, that’s what I wanted to say on this. I disagree with everyone who’s said that Autumn et. al are apathetic, lazy, etc. It’s ignorance they’re suffering from - not knowing how to change rather than not wanting to.
posted by essexjan at 9:47 AM on August 5, 2009 [22 favorites]


I guess what annoys me about the theme of the "essay" is not only that the photographer is superimposing her own narrative on the photos instead of letting Amber's voice come through but that she seems to be folding all sorts of trite assumptions into her vision of what "poverty" is.

A family of 5 subsisting on $14k/year is neither assumption, nor trite. It just is. Your perspective is skewed, not the photographer's. Example:

At least in my area, if she visited a family whose household income was $80,000 a year, she'd be likely to see a life very much like Amber's, just less frayed around the edges.

I know me plenty upper-middle class people in the $80k/yr tax bracket, and the life they live, even here in the expensive part of New England... man, Autumn can't even see what that looks like on a clear day, it's so far away. If you do live like that on eighty grand a year, you have some serious issues.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:54 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


What is so sacred about the term photojournalist? Lunasol liked the photoessay, as do many commenters. I found the photoessay a bit overwrought, but it is photojournalism.
posted by theora55 at 10:04 AM on August 5, 2009


I just wanted to address a few things after reading some wonderful comments from some self styled photo experts.

Ethics: The photographer is currently interning at the Boston Globe. The Boston Globe which is owned by the NY Times and is notoriously strict when it comes to ethics (which is good). Maise wouldn't be working there if there were even a whiff of impropriety with her photos. Just because she can do things with her camera that you can't it doesn't mean that it is photoshop. Just because she spent probably hundreds of hours getting access that you can't doesn't mean that it was set up like those French students. As was mentioned, the world of photojournalism is a small one. Word gets out fast when people are doing things they shouldn't. And please don't try and bring up the recent photoshop scandal in the NY Times. That guy was NOT a photojournalist he was an art photographer who claimed to not use photoshop (not that it matters in the art world)and was also just hired on a freelance basis.

Captions: Specifically to Fire&Wings. This isn't art photography we are viewing. Maise is studying photojournalism. As a photojournalist and especially as a photojournalism student your photos REQUIRE captions. It is part of the job. In most cases the caption merely describes what is happening. Thats it. In other cases where there is more of a story then the captions may offer some background info (for example: Why Amber is in her dad's lap?). Now I know that most of the photo experts on here would like to think that Maise's website and essays are up there just so we folks at Metafilter can pick her apart. Well, they aren't. They are up there for possible clients/employees to view. News photo editors are a picky bunch. If those pics had no captions then she would probably be dismissed by every photo editor out there. Also if she were out working for, well lets say The Boston Globe because she is working there, and she just sent her photos without captions then she wouldn't be working there anymore. News rooms don't have time to screw around with photographers who only do half their work. I will however concede that the title of the essay itself is a bit corny.

As for the general subject matter. Say what you will, but she is a student. The photos are pretty powerful and it is a work in progress. Photo essays can go on for and evolve for years before they are complete. She is out trying to tell stories going on in her backyard. That is just good journalism. Not every photo essay needs to show the worst of the worst or the best of the best. A lot of greatest essays just show every day life.
posted by WickedPissah at 10:15 AM on August 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


Not sure if "ATTACK attack" is a typo - of whether that's your deliberate emphasis?

It's a variation on on "Like like" i.e. you like someone, but like them more than as a friend.

So yeah, it's fine to attack someone in the spirit of attacking their points or statements, but to ATTACK someone seems all kinds of wrong, that's all I was saying.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:22 AM on August 5, 2009


What is up with this Four Yorkshireman bullshit? Why is it a fucking contest? Y'know, the more I read this thread the more I think the photos did work, because practically this whole thing is about 100 different people angrily defending themselves from sadness by saying they're not poor enough to be sad for, or they're too lazy to be sad for, or I was poorer so I don't have to be sad, or I'm already sad about poor people I know and so trying to make me sad about other poor people is manipulative bullshit and I don't have to be sad, or the photographer's a shit writer and that makes me mad so I don't have to be sad or the photographer so was trying to make them look extra sad on purpose so I don't have to be sad. Jesus fuck.

I apologize for snapping. I'm certainly not a perfect person, and I know there have been many times in my life when I have acted callously. But good god, we are so carefree in our judgement of others. Take it away, Portia:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
posted by Diablevert at 10:30 AM on August 5, 2009 [9 favorites]


Somebody help me out here... what's the word I'm looking for? Pathos?

What I'm seeing here is a nice admixture of subsistence wages and poor education. This is essentially, a relatively... searching for the word here again... "average" working class family. Not that we should resign ourselves to any portion of our citizenry having to live on mere subsistence wages, and without decent education. Both of those things can be fixed, but I doubt one without the other is going to help in most cases.

I've seen people climb out of similar circumstances though, and in fact, my own weren't too dissimilar during my youth. I essentially educated myself, since the schools weren't interested, and fortunately, never quite reached the point of apathy that we may be seeing here in the older family members. It's not like she's got a disease -- I think the pathos is just a tad ham-handed.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:08 AM on August 5, 2009


TheGoldenOne: I apologize for my comment about the DOF. I realized a moment after I posted that it was ill-considered and that deep DOF is totally normal depending on the conditions and settings.
posted by bz at 11:18 AM on August 5, 2009


Autumn and those like her don’t understand that if they work hard, get an education, get an entry-level job, stick at it, learn to get up and show up on time every day, go to night school, get a better job, strive for improvement, then a better life can be had.

I loved your comment, so don't get me wrong when I say this, but the problem these days in the US, because of the recession and various other societal dislocations, is that all of those assumptions that you have listed are going down the toilet, never to return.

The problem is precisely this: that even if you believe in and let yourself be driven by all of those good things, getting up in the morning, striving, persevering, toiling, and being a good emblem of the Puritan work ethic, you may very easily still not ever end up with a better life or even a good life. That is the source of much cognitive dissonance in the United States these days, and not just among the working class. Dreams that were taken for granted by our fathers and grandfathers are no longer there to be taken for granted.
posted by blucevalo at 11:40 AM on August 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


As someone who lives in a "third world" Asian country and sees poverty and hardship around every single day, I am amazed and appalled by the lack of empathy in this thread, and the backlash against what some call "poverty porn" - a term I first heard when Slumdog Millionaire came out. A student puts out a series of photos depicting a poor white girl and the environment she lives in, and because the family is not poor enough, the photos aren't heart-shattering enough, the captions are not well-written enough, the whole thing deserves dismissal and derision? Wow.

There are different levels of poverty. There's combing through stacks of garbage, begging on the streets poor. There's homeless poor. There's shanty by the river on squatted land poor. There's can't afford to feed the family and pay the hospital bills poor. There's uneducated, isolated, misplaced sense of values poor. Who's to judge who's worse off? And does it ever mean only the worst off are deserving of sympathy?

It's disturbing to see the face of Angel, who seems like she's still a little girl who has had to harden because of her circumstances. She's grown up in an apathetic environment where rape, incest, and physical abuse are merely scoffed at, and education wasn't a number one priority. The junk food likely abounds because it's cheap and instant, or it could be either they don't know how to cook proper, nutritious food, or don't want to bother. It was probably a lot more disturbing to the photographer to see this girl who's just like her, who's also young and white and dreaming of a better life, but whose world and lifestyle are vastly different. And it's not even that far away--this is not Bangladesh or Ukraine or Ethiopia, it's rural America. As an outsider, it's striking to me that such eerily soul-sucking poverty exists within one of the richest, most powerful countries in the world. Not all poverty is material, and not all violence involves blood.

(That said, the photos linked by Civil_Disobedient are infinitely more moving, artful, and professional, but that others in the world are worse off does not diminish the fact that Angel's current standing is bleak.)

I don't really understand the hatred for "poverty porn" either. Poverty, all degrees of it, deserves to be brought to light and exposed more often because its representation in various media vs. the extent of world poverty in reality is highly disproportionate. But we can't expect photographers, journalists, and directors to be personally obliged to alleviate the poverty of the people that they show, because if anyone knew how to do that, we wouldn't have any more poor people. The best we can hope for is to get these stories out in the world, and have solutions spring from there.
posted by Lush at 12:12 PM on August 5, 2009 [12 favorites]


Speak for yourself. In America, anyway, depending on where you live, it is possible to lead a sheltered and/or incurious suburban life ignorant to the reality of modern American poverty.

Really? Who works at the gas station? Who is the janitor at your school? Who is checking you out of the grocery store?

This is exactly what I mean about the invisibility of poverty. People just don't think about the people around them.
posted by kathrineg at 12:42 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't have any judgment or anything else really, just that I'm surprised this is considered "poverty" (let alone extreme) because that means I was actually seriously, desolately poor growing up, and I'd never really considered myself to be anything but an average American kid growing up (nor did my parents ever let on that we were "poor"). We were bankrupt for a good portion of my childhood, lived in a cheap one-story house, etc. so I think we were worse off than these people. But I always felt like I had a decent life. Fast food was a few-times-a-year-luxury but we ate okay with home cooking. The big thing was that our parents emphasized education above all other things, and were strict as hell about it. And my brother and I learned to immerse ourselves in the world of books and libraries (and, okay, video games.) Now I have a computer science degree and a J.D. and a nice paying job. I don't know what lessons can be learned from this, I just don't find the situation of these people especially dire or hopeless. The only thing that makes it hopeless is a defeatist, apathetic attitude (which I suppose was nourished by the environment, so this is more complex than I'm making it seem.) Cue people railing against my condescension and privilege.
posted by naju at 12:58 PM on August 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Really? Who works at the gas station? Who is the janitor at your school? Who is checking you out of the grocery store?

Family business, we never saw them, and moms with grown children.

I grew up in a pretty typical middle-class to upper-middle-class suburb. Bums on the corners when we drove into the city were shocking. But lots of people didn't drive into the city.

Sometimes we'd see the kids from the "wrong side of the tracks" when we played them in football. They weren't poor, their dads just had more blue-collar jobs than our dads. Instead of accountants and engineers and real-estate developers, their dads were plumbers and electricians. Not "poor," though, by any stretch.
posted by desuetude at 1:03 PM on August 5, 2009


I also want to note that I've spent considerable time in a very rural village in India (no electricity, one small room for an entire family's living space) and those people weren't defeated or down about their circumstances. They ate okay, and were happy, and attended (looked forward to) school.
posted by naju at 1:18 PM on August 5, 2009


The only thing that makes it hopeless is a defeatist, apathetic attitude (which I suppose was nourished by the environment, so this is more complex than I'm making it seem.) Cue people railing against my condescension and privilege.

If the problem is more complex than you make it seem, why are you engaging in reductionism about it?
posted by blucevalo at 1:26 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem is complex in the sense that everyone's environment affects their future, and your parents' attitudes towards things shapes who you are. Imagine a solidly middle-class kid raised in an environment in which education is a very low priority. Assuming that kid will be on his own once he turns 18, I feel kind of bad for him too, even though his situation is not hopeless at all - his family's doing pretty well.
posted by naju at 1:34 PM on August 5, 2009


And I think laying the blanket term "poverty" on this family and all others like it would be reductionism. I'm trying (and failing) to articulate something more nuanced, I think.
posted by naju at 1:37 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I refer primarily to your notion that an "defeatist, apathetic attitude" is the only thing that makes the situations of impoverished families like this one hopeless. If I am misinterpreting what you are saying, I apologize, but that sounds reductionist to me.
posted by blucevalo at 1:59 PM on August 5, 2009


I don't see why it sounds reductionist. It seems like they have enough money to eat, send their kids to school, better their lives. It's not nearly as easy as some kid who gets into Yale with the help of his rich parents, and not nearly as hard as a kid living on welfare in the projects. (Sexual/physical abuse issues aside) this family honestly just seems kind of normal to me. I can't help it. This is a common family with a decent set of opportunities. For whatever reason, their environment has made them apathetic about a lot of things (at least to me), and that makes all the difference. I don't mean to sound like some "lift yourself up by the bootstraps" Republican; I acknowledge that your environment makes things complex and there's never an easy solution. But I do believe their attitude is the only thing stopping them. If this sounds contradictory, sorry, I'm not thinking straight today.
posted by naju at 2:11 PM on August 5, 2009


----misplaced sense of values
----environment where rape, incest, and physical abuse are merely scoffed at
----education wasn't a number one priority
----junk food . . . abounds because it's cheap and instant, or it could be either they don't know how to cook proper, nutritious food, or don't want to bother


And that is different from most of middle-class America how?

Obviously, more privileged Americans have more (security, choices, freedom, power, time), but why should we assume they automatically have different or better in every respect than less privileged people? Casting of people at Autumn's socioeconomic class as Others With a Plight in the lugubrious tone of this essay (which is perhaps mainly just a reflection of the writer's age and inexperience), doesn't help any.

Poor people already have grinding poverty and all it entails to contend with; they don't need outsiders oh-so-sympathetically pissing on their dignity some more. "Hi, can I snap a few pictures of your misplaced values?" A lot of my neighbors make well below the county median income ($33,000 household, which is well below the US median), and they'd be the first ones to tell you they've got trouble, but if you went up to most of them and asked, "So how are you handling your plight?" they'd rightfully sock you in the nose.

I've seen the results of this piety in some of my students. Our govtal. and charitable apparatus for helping poor people almost always requires them to abase themselves by trotting out every unpleasant detail of their situations. Every time you have to talk to a new social worker or go to a new municipal window, you have to retell the whole gory tale replete with tiny violins. So the minute a student with that background needs to ask me for an extension or explain an absence, even though I frequently tell the class their reasons are none of my business, (s)he immediately spews out a litany of intensely TMI detail, like an anonymous AskMe question on steroids.

Why? Because poor Americans are taught that because they're less, they must purchase help with shame and supplication.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:13 PM on August 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Joe Queenan writes on the topic of poverty in his memoir, Closing Time. For those who demand the poor express themselves, here's what one man who has risen above has to say on the subject:

"Poverty, conceptually as well as viscerally, suffers from a mythology concocted by those were never poor. Poverty goes far beyond not having money or food. Poverty means that when you do have money and food, the money gets spent unwisely and the food is not nutritious. Poverty is not simply a matter of not being able to buy certain things; it's about buying the wrong things, or the things nobody else wants... It's about always in and eating badly, never eating out and well. It's about bad diets, bad teeth, bad feet, bad playgrounds, bad parents, bad housing, bad attitudes.

Poverty is a tumor it takes a lifetime to excise, because poverty is lodged deep inside the brain in a dark corner where the once-poor don't want to look. Poverty is a lifestyle, a philosophy, a modus vivendi, an agglomeration of bad habits, which is why nobody who has ever been poor physically stops being poor emotionally...

The poverty my family experienced was grinding, dull, and monotonous--the traditional one-size-fits-all, no-frills variety. We did not have enough food. We rarely ate fresh fruits or vegetables; everything came out of a can. We had crummy toys. Our appliances were always going on the fritz, because my father tended to buy dud lookalikes "on time" at twice the normal retail price...

Not until years and years later would it ever occur to any of us that the deck was stacked against members of our class, that whatever adults may have done to wreck their lives, it was unfair for their children to begin life with their chances for success preemptively sabotaged. In this sense, poverty is not so much cruel as unsportsmanlike. Those who despise the poor, Calvinist types who unfailingly point to wantonly self-destructive behavior as a sign of the underclass's moral and intellectual inferiority, do not understand that poor people behave so stupidly because poverty is a finishing school where children learn how to be stupid. Growing up poor teaches young people to buy clothing that shrinks, appliances that break, furniture that disintegrates, food that provides no nutrition--and, if possible, to overpay for it. If a young person born in a housing project in the United States of America grows up to be stupid, self-destructive, or evil, this should come as no surprise to anyone. They have studied at the feet of the masters."
posted by Jaqi at 2:32 PM on August 5, 2009 [12 favorites]


the lugubrious tone of this essay (which is perhaps mainly just a reflection of the writer's age and inexperience)...

Yes.
posted by applemeat at 2:36 PM on August 5, 2009


Why? Because poor Americans are taught that because they're less...

I forget where I got the quote, (I think it's depression-era) but I've used it when asked by my kids if we were poor. The answer is "No, we're not poor -- we're just broke."
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:53 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


and not nearly as hard as a kid living on welfare in the projects

do you actually think this family isn't on welfare?

if anything those in the projects have more chances to remove themselves from their plight - they're at least in a large metropolitan area where you can travel 15 minutes and be surrounded with a different mind set. those in areas like this (and appalachia and the ozarks and west texas and and and) have at times hundreds of miles before they can actually see another option that seems remotely attainable.
posted by nadawi at 3:44 PM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Those who despise the poor, Calvinist types who unfailingly point to wantonly self-destructive behavior as a sign of the underclass's moral and intellectual inferiority, do not understand that poor people behave so stupidly because poverty is a finishing school where children learn how to be stupid.

He was being literary and metaphorical, but more sciencey than he knew:
THAT the children of the poor underachieve in later life, and thus remain poor themselves, is one of the enduring problems of society. Sociologists have studied and described it. Socialists have tried to abolish it by dictatorship and central planning. Liberals have preferred democracy and opportunity. But nobody has truly understood what causes it. Until, perhaps, now.

The crucial breakthrough was made three years ago, when Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania showed that the working memories of children who have been raised in poverty have smaller capacities than those of middle-class children. Working memory is the ability to hold bits of information in the brain for current use—the digits of a phone number, for example. It is crucial for comprehending languages, for reading and for solving problems. Entry into the working memory is also a prerequisite for something to be learnt permanently as part of declarative memory—the stuff a person knows explicitly, like the dates of famous battles, rather than what he knows implicitly, like how to ride a bicycle.

Since Dr Farah’s discovery, Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg of Cornell University have studied the phenomenon in more detail. As they report in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they have found that the reduced capacity of the memories of the poor is almost certainly the result of stress affecting the way that childish brains develop.
It's easy to say that all it would take is for this family to change their attitude. Easier said than done.posted by rtha at 3:58 PM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jesus Compassionate Christ people. W.T.H.?

I'm astounded...really astounded at some of the responses here. How cool for you that you've never been poor, that you've never experienced living in an area where everyone around you "shops" at the Salvation Army, that you've never gone to bed hungry for days at a time, where the concept of fresh produce is as foreign an idea as turning away a family member in need would be. I've known folks who lost their teeth by their 20s, and who lost their will to live a decade before they lost their teeth. And I'm willing to bet you dollars to doughnuts these folks, just like those folks, are all "too proud" to take welfare.

How exactly are these people supposed to "better themselves" so they meet your standards of deserving compassion? Graduating high school won't make a pig's ears worth of difference in communities like this. Fuck, a HS degree and $3.50 will get you a cup a coffee in any city in this country. Read the want ads. Employers want college degrees for the most entry level of jobs. Receptionist? College degree. Phone sales? College degree. Hell, I've got a degree, and I'm being told that with 20 years of experience and a degree that now I need a Masters. In this economy, with the colleges having set themselves up as the gatekeepers of entry to the middle class...There Is No Escape for people like the ones in this photoessay. Our blue collar jobs have disappeared to other countries. Our agriculture jobs are done by migrants who don't earn minimum wages. There's only so many checkout girl and bag boy jobs available in a given radius.

They don't deserve compassion because they're not poor enough for you? Because they have soda and chips? Really? And you don't have any idea why that's a repulsive mindset?
posted by dejah420 at 5:38 PM on August 5, 2009 [8 favorites]


The photographer has another series "Lost in Plain Sight" which works a lot better, though the subject is different.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:57 PM on August 5, 2009


And that is different from most of middle-class America how?

You really have no idea? Truly? Are you that disconnected from reality? I was raised middle-class, know almost all middle-class people, and you clearly have no idea what goes on in a middle-class family. Arguing that this sort of existence is par-for-the-course to the majority of the people in this country is disingenuous snark or hallucination. It strikes me as being exceptionally lazy thinking, especially from an academic.

Speaking of lazy thinking:

Every time you have to talk to a new social worker or go to a new municipal window, you have to retell the whole gory tale replete with tiny violins. So the minute a student with that background needs to ask me for an extension or explain an absence, even though I frequently tell the class their reasons are none of my business, (s)he immediately spews out a litany of intensely TMI detail, like an anonymous AskMe question on steroids.

So we are to believe you are noble for refusing to give a fuck about people in dire straights? Your lack of compassion and empathy just what they need to help them pull themselves up by the ol' bootstraps? I don't think you've really thought this all the way through.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:38 PM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


A student puts out a series of photos depicting a poor white girl and the environment she lives in, and because the family is not poor enough, the photos aren't heart-shattering enough, the captions are not well-written enough, the whole thing deserves dismissal and derision?

no, it's because the "photojournalist" actually DIDN'T depict that environment - what's her daddy do for a living? - how big is the town? - what are the neighbors like and what do they think?

good pictures doesn't make it journalism, insight does and i didn't see any there

---

For those who demand the poor express themselves, here's what one man who has risen above has to say on the subject:

bullshit - i've known articulate and intelligent poor people - and i've known some godawfully stupid and self-destructive affluent people - and the idea that he and the members of his class had no idea the deck was stacked against them - well, that's a function of indoctrination not of poverty - trust me, there are dirt poor people who know damned well the world's got it in for them
posted by pyramid termite at 10:44 PM on August 5, 2009


A work is linked at metalfilter for the community to critique and discuss as well as just enjoy. The thread on this work has been nuanced and articulated, as much as it can be with a facile cliche like "poverty porn." When the discussion of the work leads to discussing the larger issues that the work ostensibly depicts, then it succeeds, at least as an FPP. So I say good, even though I didn't RTFA.
posted by bonefish at 11:33 PM on August 5, 2009


"So we are to believe you are noble for refusing to give a fuck about people in dire straights? Your lack of compassion and empathy just what they need to help them pull themselves up by the ol' bootstraps? I don't think you've really thought this all the way through."

I'm not sure I'm understanding you here Slap*Happy. The point was that extensions don't require any kind of explanation from anyone, they are free for the asking. I'm not sure it's mean of the instructor to not want to play amateur psychiatrist even if the student has been conditioned by poverty to give their life story every time they require assistance. I sure hope users don't think less of me when I tell them I don't need the 20 minute explanation of their weekend to reset their forgotten password.
posted by Mitheral at 1:11 AM on August 6, 2009


"Autumn does her hair in the bathroom she shares with all five family members."

Is this classed as poor in the States? I shared a bathroom with the other four members of my family until my older siblings left home.
posted by mippy at 3:20 AM on August 6, 2009


All my varied thoughts are covered above, particularly by essexjan - poor areas in the UK have a problem with 'food poverty', and it is cheap to fill up on Doritos.

However, I would have got more out of this had it been presented differently.
posted by mippy at 4:16 AM on August 6, 2009


I'm surprised no one's talked at all about the last image, where her uncle is brushing her hair after she played in the rain. There's something really nuanced about that--loving, intimate, happy, and not sensational at all. Because of those things, it doesn't really seem to fit with the rest of the images.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:06 AM on August 6, 2009


(Second-to-last picture, sorry.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:07 AM on August 6, 2009


The picture of the uncle brushing her hair made me think of photo of her sitting in the lap of the relative who supposedly tried to rape her. Are they the same? The composition, with her sitting in light and him in shadow underneath religious totems, gives it a creepy feel.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:30 AM on August 6, 2009


Jesus somebody please take their dogs away.

I will never understand people who have more compassion for animals than for people.

That's one way to look at it. Another way is that pets can't call 911.
posted by starman at 7:06 AM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The picture of the uncle brushing her hair made me think of photo of her sitting in the lap of the relative who supposedly tried to rape her. Are they the same? The composition, with her sitting in light and him in shadow underneath religious totems, gives it a creepy feel.

I wonder if we're supposed to make that connection, or if the photographer is reaching for that, but there's really nothing to suggest it. The lighting over Autumn's head there suggests to me that we're supposed to see her as a Madonna figure, and doesn't seem creepy at all. I think the ordering of images is significant on the readings we can get out of the photo--if it were placed closer to the top, would we feel more sympathetic to Autumn and her family?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:28 AM on August 6, 2009


I was raised middle-class, know almost all middle-class people, and you clearly have no idea what goes on in a middle-class family.

You seem to think that your experience of middle-class living in your region is identical to that of my region and that you know exponentially more than I do about the neighbors I've lived among for 18 years. It may just be that we have differing observations about middle-class life because each of us is more familiar with a different end of a pretty wide spectrum. Not that it matters, but I was raised lower-middle-class-white-collar, first-generation college. Annual household incomes in my neighborhood range from, oh, probably around $15,000 to maybe $100,000; most probably hover around the county median of $34,000. This is true of rural central Michigan in general: the social classes are far less segregated here than in some other regions or in cities.

So we are to believe you are noble for refusing to give a fuck about people in dire straights? Your lack of compassion and empathy just what they need to help them pull themselves up by the ol' bootstraps?

What on earth are you talking about? If I were elected Empress, there'd be some serious income redistribution going on in this country. My point here was that making 30 grand less than somebody else doesn't make one morally inferior, unworthy of respect, or eligible for scornful hand-wringing. Of course I feel compassion for people who are struggling, either with poverty or other problems or crises, and if my students want to confide in me, I'm happy to listen. But I fucking hate profs who require students to show, for instance, written documentation of a doctor appointment or a family funeral -- that's their business, and it's unethical to use a position of power to invade their privacy. A grown adult should be able to say, "Sorry I missed class, family emergency" and not be treated like a felon.

It'd be great if you could stop acting as if you know the first goddamned thing about what I personally do or don't do to alleviate poverty. Roughly 80% of my students come from abject poverty, or subsistence poverty like Autumn's, or lower-middle-class mostly squeaking by-ness, and I've spent 28 years and will spend the next 30 doing what little I can to help them gain more choices and a higher standard of living. I put every goddamned cent of my middle-middle-class single income that I can manage into the moribund local economy. My poorer neighbors need help and a fairer shake, not teary-eyed, judgy pity.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:56 AM on August 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


I wonder if we're supposed to make that connection, or if the photographer is reaching for that, but there's really nothing to suggest it.

Well, then we could get into what an artist intends and what the audience perceives based on their own background. The moment seemed odd to me, as guy with a seventeen year old daughter. The idea of brushing her hair at this age has never really crossed my mind, nor probably hers, but obviously that's my own perceptions. Maybe it's a remark on stunted emotional growth?

I think the ordering of images is significant on the readings we can get out of the photo--if it were placed closer to the top, would we feel more sympathetic to Autumn and her family?

Good point on the ordering of the photos and the impact it could have on us. The sequence is almost like a comic book, where a story is slowly being told, image by image. We have no clear idea of Autumn's relationship with her parents, though she seems somewhat close to her dad, while he appears beaten down or half dead from life to give her the love and support she craves. I think the photo of the uncle brushing her hair does a good job of reminding us that her relationships are complex and there's more to them than these brief glimpses.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:32 PM on August 6, 2009


You seem to think that your experience of middle-class living in your region is identical to that of my region and that you know exponentially more than I do about the neighbors I've lived among for 18 years.

Get up to around 30 years, and you're in the neighborhood of how long I've lived in mine. I don't buy into your parochial bullshit for an instant, sorry.

It'd be great if you could stop acting as if you know the first goddamned thing about what I personally do or don't do to alleviate poverty.

I don't five a flying fuck at a rolling donut what you do or don't do to alleviate poverty... only in how you treat your fellow human beings who come to you for a little mercy. From your own descriptions, you fail and badly.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:33 PM on August 6, 2009


Little white words on a blue screen are indeed the best way to judge how others treat their fellow human beings in face-to-face life.

Can one really accuse a fellow of being parochial — of possessing view of limited scope — because he's lived in one neighbourhood a dozen years less than oneself? Wait, I get it: today must be opposites day!
posted by five fresh fish at 8:48 AM on August 7, 2009


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