Could It Happen to You? Danish Photographer Takes Unflinching Look at Hidden Poverty In U.S.

Spirit Grass, a member of the Lakota people, lives on the reservation with her family in South Dakota, where they try to live on $3,500 a year. Her mother is an unemployed military veteran who was trained as a medical technician, while her father works part time in Eagle Butte, forty miles away. Spirit Grass hopes a college basketball scholarship will lead to a better future.
Spirit Grass, a member of the Lakota people, lives on the reservation with her family in South Dakota, where they try to live on $3,500 a year. Her mother is an unemployed military veteran who was trained as a medical technician, while her father works part time in Eagle Butte, forty miles away. Spirit Grass hopes a college basketball scholarship will lead to a better future.

While one in every seven Americans lives below the US poverty line, their stories remain largely untold.

For Danish photographer Joakim Eskildsen, what he witnessed traveling around New York, California, Louisiana, South Dakota and Georgia for seven months was a far cry from the ‘mythical’ images he associated with the US as an outsider.

But he found the American Dream was persistent within the country as well, working as a dangerous set of ideals that did not account for the realities of more than 45million people.

Eskildsen, whose photographs are featured in the book American Realities, described his experience as ‘heartbreaking’ and said: ‘The influence of the mass media is massive. Many people experience themselves as losers since they cannot live up to the ideals that are presented to them on TV.’

As a photographer he tried to capture the truth. But Eskildsen approached his initial assignment with TIME magazine ‘freed of any agenda’, saying: ‘I do not portray poor people differently than I would take pictures of rich people.’

He told Slate: ‘To me, it is very important to see people as themselves, not only as mere illustrations of their situation, as being poor, rich, or representative of any other circumstances.’

Because he was limited to connecting with people for just a few hours at a time, he tried to visit his subjects several times to minimize the jarring effect of his presence.

What he learned was that the Americans living in poverty were battling their own unique challenges- whether it was losing their homes after being hospitalized, or fighting for survival as a newly arrived immigrant.

While many of the people he met had material comforts and jobs, Eskildsen said they often faced staggering debt and resorted to unhealthy lifestyles that hung precariously in the balance without a safety net.

He also cited the low minimum wage as a systemic problem, along with high crime rates and the lack of fresh produce and nutritious food in poverty-stricken areas of the US.

‘Almost everyone we talked to or interviewed cried at some point,’ he told Slate. ‘It was in many ways very hard to face all this. I had the feeling anybody could fall into such hardship.’

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SOURCE: Daily Mail
Jessica Chia