Third World America

Photojournalism by Alison Wright
“black families of the Mississippi Delta,”
a single mother working a low-wage job in Ohio,
“food bank in Appalachia,”
“migrant workers . . . in Texas,”
“Indians on a Navaho reservation . . . With no running water or
• Why these examples?
• She wants to show that poverty affects people of many ethnic
groups in different parts of the country.
• In developing countries, poor people are
thin, but in America, obesity and related
health problems are the issue for poor
people because they have a diet lacking
proper nutrition and can’t afford
• The furniture is very simple with basic linens on the beds, and
part of the ceiling is falling down, showing that they have
limited income and resources. The items on the wall show that
they try to bring some beauty into their lives. The cross suggests
that religion is important to them.
• Why did she choose to photograph the children in a group
rather than individually?
• She wants to emphasize that all seven children, who are very
close in age, sleep in this one small bedroom and must sleep at
least two to each bed.
• . Mood is the atmosphere created in a photograph through
lighting, setting, and props. Mood is the way the viewer feels
when looking at the photograph. Captions, or words under
images like photographs, may add to or even change a
viewer’s understanding of the image. On page 214, what mood
has the photographer created with just the photograph itself?
• It shows shoppers at a warehouse store. The long line of people
waiting in the stark, shed-like structure suggests an anxious,
apprehensive mood. The interaction of the women with the baby
in the cart adds some lightness to the mood and suggests a
feeling of community.
• After reading the caption and knowing it is a food bank rather
than a store, the viewer realizes that these people are
dependent on the free food in order for their families to
• She wanted to show the starkness and isolation of their living
situation; from this distance viewers can see their inadequate
living quarters against a cold, harsh landscape.
• Why would she have shown them outside during winter instead of
inside of the bus?
• Photographing them in winter reveals how difficult it is to survive with
no electricity or water when it is cold and snowy. Photographing the
outside of the bus shows the viewer something familiar in an
unfamiliar context – a bus is not usually considered a place to live.
The outside shot also reveals the generator that may give them a little
• . A photo essay has a cumulative effect as the photos
combine to tell a story and allow viewers to find common
themes. Compare the photo of the woman and her two
children with the photo of the seven children in the first
photo. What details reveal similarities in their situations?
• In both photographs, the furniture is very basic and rather worn,
as are the walls. Both families decorate their walls with items
that are meaningful although not of high monetary value.
• Subjects are posed in tight groups, but they are not interacting
with each other. Instead, they look directly into the camera with
expressions that are stoic, even sad. The mood is one of lonely
endurance in the face of great challenge.
• Wright’s wide angles present her subjects in context to convey
the conditions with which they struggle. In the first photograph,
viewers see the crumbling ceiling and the children’s small beds.
The photo of the food bank demonstrates the sheer number of
people needing help. The snow and the shabby school bus stun
viewers with the reality of what the family must cope with daily.
The last photo emphasizes the darkness of the family’s life
through the darkness of the setting. By including details of
setting, Wright imprints her message about poverty on viewers.
• How do the captions add to the effectiveness of the photo
essay? What is the relationship between the captions on the
introductory text on page 213?
• The captions include facts that help viewers
better understand the images. They refer to
specific sentences in the introduction, helping
viewers unify the written and visual information
and appreciate the severity of each situation.
• Wright’s style might be described as realistic.
She avoids special lighting effects to emphasize
the grim reality her subjects face. She includes
children to show that they are the ones most
afflicted by poverty in America. While people
remain the focal point of her images, she
carefully establishes the background to convey
important ideas about their lives. The mood of
each photo might be called somber or grim. The
expressions on the faces of the subjects
reinforce this mood. They face the camera the
same way they face their lives, unflinchingly but
without much hope.

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