Geography of Poverty (Matt Black at St. John the Divine)


If you’re in the neighborhood, I think they’re still there. Head down W.110 Street between Amsterdam and Columbus/Morningside Drive. St. John the Divine has assembled these photographs and put them on view outside along the large retaining south wall of the cathedral grounds  and new residential tower. Out of place, as it were, the presentation is meant to catch you up short.

You can see many more photos from the series here at the wesbite for “Geography of Poverty” by photographer Matt Black, and at this article by Priscilla Fisher here. The photographs are large and stark, super saturated in black and white. The photographer took these pictures on a circuitous cross country Greyhound trip. Fisher explains, “Black competed the journey via a single continuous route, revealing that rampant poverty is not an outlier but a contiguous thread. ‘What really dawned on me is how connected these places are,’ Black told Time Magazine. ‘I’ve driven all the way across the country, but in a lot of ways I feel I still haven’t left the Central Valley. It feels like one place.'” Poverty works as a connective tissue across the country.

There is a strong whiff of the New Deal here, or Paul Strand, Berenice Abbot and the Photo League, poverty constituted as a public interest on visible display. In my digital photographs here, the bare trees in the winter along W.110 cast shadows framing and crossing over the photographs.  Unlike at the website, you see photographs from the series lined up horizontally in the physical space of the street. Tied together in a group, every single picture is lonely. I’m not entirely sure what I think about that particular effect. Of interest is the support for the project from governmental and civil society bodies, state and church.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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