American Realities, 2011
One in every six Americans lived below the official U.S. poverty line when Kira Pollack, director of Photography at TIME Magazine, commissioned me to capture the growing crisis. During thirty-six days spread over seven months in 2011, and mostly accompanied by reporter Natasha del Toro, I traveled through New York, California, Louisiana, South Dakota and Georgia, visiting places that according to census data have the highest poverty rate.
The approximately 50 million poor Americans are a heterogeneous population from very varying backgrounds. Some are newly poor, some are immigrants who have come from humble conditions, dreaming of the American possibilities. of course, U.S. poverty differs from poverty in developing countries. People living below the poverty line can have physical goods, even work—but they are mired in debt, many homes are in foreclosure, and most often, being poor also implies having to resort to the cheapest, most unhealthy and risky lifestyle. Any unexpected occurrence may jeopardize the fragile system and find people living on the streets.
The situation of the native Americans is a chapter of its own. History is an open wound, and most of the people suffer both mentally and physically. What struck me as extremely positive were all the grass root level organizations who, out of their own will and initiative, helped the poor and homeless in an admirable way.
Photographing to me is first of all a very personal matter. In this case, it was essential to me that I had a strong interest in the subject matter; if I do not have that, I do not know what to photograph. Light is central to me. The socially critical aspect only comes in later, but grows more and more inter- esting along the way, and influences the process of photographing. First of all though, I want to see persons and the landscapes freed of any agenda, and adjectives such as rich or poor are of little significance. I do not portray poor people differently than I would take pictures of rich people; it is rather a way of looking at the world. The myth of the American dream is very strong in the U.S., and it seems people are disillusioned with the fact that it is so difficult to get by today. They said there is no American dream anymore. This, they said, was the American Reality.
Home Works [work in progress since 2005]
I started photographing when I was 14 years old, now I am 41. During the first years, I photographed around the house, in the fields and in the forest. From the first beginning, it was a certain light or weather condition that inspired me and made me eager to go out. Since that time, I have moved away from the village, and started to photograph on different journeys. The first works were from Scandinavia and Portugal, then all around Europe, India and Africa.
At some point, my interest started turning back to the beginnings, and to the things that had so much inspired me at first. I felt it was a relief to photograph in the immediate surroundings, rediscovering what had made me so interested in photography – an artistic homecoming as it were. It coincided with the time my son was born, and little later, my daughter. Consequently, my family started looking for a good place to live, which has taken us to six different homes – in Finland, Denmark, and Germany.