April 20 - May 21, 2016

Joakim Eskildsen

American Realities

Cheyenne River Reservation, South Dakota, 2011 


One in every six Americans lived below the of cial 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 nd people living on the streets.

If you live below the poverty line in the U.S., you are most likely to live in an unsafe area with high crime rates. Houses we visited were often completely barred, the windows taped for security reasons, and parents were scared to let their children go out. Inside the homes, often built from low quality materials, air conditioning and TV were running at all times. The in uence of the mass media is massive, and many people experience themselves as losers since they cannot live up to the ideals that are presented to them on TV.

The minimum wage in the U.S. is so low that people often have several jobs in order to afford a house, food, and a car. Since infrastructure in the U.S. is based on automobile transport and public transport is poor, people are totally dependant on their cars, and a car breaking down or the lack of money for petrol can easily mean loosing a job or even home.