Find photographs depicting at least two social perspectives of the same place. Find a photograph depicting the affluent side of a city and one that shows the poorer side.
Then see if you can find two photographs where social contrasts are within single image.
One of the great subjects of landscape photography and environmental photography is the stigma of the rich and the poor, quite often we see the clash of the hierarchies, the social pyramid, rich buildings shadow ghettos and filthy slums, a rich man passes a homeless person shivering on the pavement.
Find two photographs where social are contrasts are within single image.
I couldn’t quite face to look upon the images of Dougie Wallace depicting a seedy night out in Blackpool; as the town isn’t too far from where I live I’d rather keep the illusion that the pleasant, scenic sculptured seafront (not counting the shops, chinking arcades and countless vendors trying to grab your attention to win the gigantic, dusty cuddly tiger) is something that is reiterated throughout the town. Of course, I know this isn’t true but as said in Patrick McGoohan’s, the Prisoner “Questions are a burden to others; answers a prison for oneself.” I’m quite happy to stay in that illusion.
Instead, I recalled a quote from Doctor Who, set in the midst of the Depression in Manhattan the workers are forced to live in Hooverville, a shanty town whilst working on the Empire State building, the injustice of the situation and the quote has always stayed with me.
“How come they can do that (refering to the empire state building) when we got people starving in the heart of Manhattan?”
I searched for images taken around that time to see whether I could illustrate this quote with a photograph. I came across an exhibiton that had been released to a Jewish museum in Manhattan depicting the lives of those from 1936 to 1951.
High rise buildings and skyscrapers soar out of the ground in an arrogant fashion lost in a fog of indifference, superiority and transcendence, the dividing line in the form of the bridge cuts through the hierarchy pyramid, separating the classes. We see the elite apex of the pyramid with the skyscrapers and the crumbling bottom in the form of the lower class area, the emotions entangled and exacerbated by the shattered window. If the hierarchy pyramid stays this way…it will shatter like a fragile glass structure.
The sign seems strangely literary, perhaps acting as warning ‘Full Stop’ It feels like something imposed by the rich. As though to say this is as far as you go. You do not belong in our world and we do not belong in yours.
The Affluent side of the city
I actually found it easier discovering images of the gritty slums and shanty towns then the affluent rich. Perhaps because photography inspires action, brings about change which wouldn’t be generated through images of the rich enjoying themselves. However when the focus is on those shivering in the slums, change is created.
Here in the image below you can see the focus on consumerism, neon lights selling all manners of goods light up the night sky, how hard was it for those suffering with empty bellies to see such images and strain on resources. While they didn’t even have a candle to keep them warm the world was lit up, diminishing the stars with flashy signs. It must have felt like a parallel world.
The Poor side of the city
For the final two images I came across the photographer, crime reporter and reformer, Jacob Riis who captured images of the dark suffering of the New York slums through the eyes of the people and in the images I’ve selected, the children.
There is something about an image of children suffering that carries a vicious hooked barb of pain into your heart. Children are innocent and care free, seeing them in such gritty and dark images act as a messages that haunt the soul.
His images inspired change and brought realisation to the masses yet despite this, such suffering continues worldwide.
“I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.” Anne Frank