Sometimes, when I'm walking, I imagine the lives of others, my fellow pedestrians. I notice their clothes, gait, facial expressions and wonder what they are thinking, where they are going. Although we share the sidewalk, I tend to assume our lives are different and our thoughts are, too.
That's why public art can be so cool -- it can unify strangers on the street, if only for a few moments. Matt Black's photoessay on a wall along 110th Street on the West Side powerfully captures the humanity and dignity of some of America's poorest while also highlighting the scope of the issue -- 45 million people live below the poverty line in the United States.
I was not the only one who stopped to look. A 20-something casually dressed male said something about immigrants struggling to survive to his girlfriend. A well dressed older man, maybe a professor, joined their conversation with a comment about poverty's impact on communities over time. All four of us said that we would remember the faces.
Matt Black is as much a journalist as an artist. The Geography of Poverty project includes geotagged photographs and poverty data. He visited 30 states in 2015 and took photographs in the country's 70 poorest places.
This photo was taken in Allenworth, CA where the population is 471 and 54% live below the poverty level.
This little girl lives in Alpaugh, CA, a town with severe groundwater contamination. We all know about Flint, though I've never heard of Alpaugh, which has been struggling for years to find solutions to its water problems. Alpaugh. Population 1,026 and 55.4% below the poverty level.
Black's work has been recognized by many. He received the W. Eugene Smith Award in Humanistic Photography in 2015 and he has been honored by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation, the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and by others. Time Magazine recognized his The Geography of Poverty project by naming him Instagram Photographer of the Year.
He also united a few random people on a Saturday in the City. For a few minutes, we were not strangers on the street. We learned together and connected in a way that may influence our attitude about the poor and could make us more willing to advocate for the underserved. Hopefully.