Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Poverty Porn

‘Migrant Mother’ is one of the most famous images in the world taken from a series of photographs that Dorothea Lange made of Florence Owens Thompson and her children in February or March 1936. I have been reminded of something within this image when viewing a recent image from a shoot with Karin a victim and survivor of child sexual abuse and a portrait of a mother and child discussed recently with Guardian Weekend Magazine picture editor Kate Edwards.

Karin has many cats she has rescued. Animals are a vessel for us to project our feelings towards. Karin is showing the tenderness and affection towards this innocent, trusting animal denied to her in a moment by a Paedophile. This is a moment of non-verbal communication shared with the camera, visceral in its complex ambivalence that I feel has its roots in Lange’s portrait.

I suppose I am comparing the literal starvation and suffering of Lange’s subject with the emotional malnourishment I felt from my contemporary sitter.

Migrant Mother resonates with contemporary society more so now during our own version of depression but our austerity is only felt by those not often placed in the spotlight and when we do see those who suffer, they are often categorized as somehow complicit in their plight. My images of the underclass in this country as represented here by the image of a mother and child (below), shot for the notorious ‘Benefit Street/CH4’ have been accused of objectifying poverty, whilst the same images of suffering from abroad seem more palatable. Perhaps we are a little uncomfortable facing up to the reality that there is genuine poverty here (literally and emotionally) when we appear to have so much and we are often quoted as being the 5th largest economy in the world.

Sometimes I am brought into contact with an emotion exuding from a subject that is so powerful and complex it changes the physical nature of the space in that moment. As they face the camera there is an exchange of mutual needs; to be seen and recorded. I never quite know when it will occur but it is the Holy Grail.


“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet.” – Dorothea Lange.
Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange, 1936
Mother & Daughter, from Benefit Street/CH4 © Richard Ansett 2014

Karin with Cat © Richard Ansett 2016




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