Danna Singers collection If It Rained an Ocean shows us another side of the forgotten working class community of New Jersey.
I’m sure you must have heard at some point of your life that saying of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps.” Mostly, it’s meant as a reminder that you’re capable of moving on from a problem by your own efforts. Sadly, life isn’t that simple for many people out there. Each life is a bunch of different circumstances, and what works for someone isn’t guaranteed to help another person as well, or what might be a small problem for some, for others can mean the end of their world.
With this idea in mind, American photographer Danna Singer shows through her work another side of the New Jersey community where she grew up that is not talked about very often: the working class. She focuses on the marginalized side of that community, on those for whom the American dream never came true. According to the artist, the social and economic struggles of that group aren’t as talked about as social issues, and when they are, it’s often diminishing them because of the issues that often take place in these communities: bigotry, addiction, and lack of education.
However, to do so, Danna chose to photograph the people she grew up with, her family and neighbors, making her photographic series even more moving and intimate. Cultura Colectiva asked Danna about her decision to choose them as the subjects of her photographs, and she said,
“Our families and communities shape who we become and I was interested in looking at that. In the microcosm of my community I saw something bigger than my story, it was the story of many working class families.”
Looking at each of these photographs feels like she has opened the door of her house to us, even though we're strangers. Nonetheless, just as she says, this honest and intimate act invites us to find ourselves reflected in each person. Her models aren’t pretending: they are open about their surroundings and their situation, and that openness allows us to embrace that side of our society we decide to leave behind and even criticize out of our own ignorance and lack of empathy.
When we look at the struggles of the working class community in these photos, we also attempt to explore their source. Behind the anger, despair, and indifference that lies behind each cycle of addiction or bigotry, there is a root that all of them fight against. We asked Danna about this, to which she answered,
“I think fear and a search for escape and relief from the struggle of daily life is one of the sources of these cycles. Lack of education, positive role models and opportunity play a big role.”
And indeed, there is a vicious cycle in which the lack of opportunities and education leads to these issues as a means to escape from them, but the more a person attempts to escape, the less the problem is treated. However, once the root is found, we can start looking for a solution. We asked Danna about that solution, which she believes lies in education:
“Education is the key to improving this situation. With education comes opportunity. With opportunity comes a sense of purpose and self-esteem. And so the cycle is redirected into a rhythm of improvement, positivity and hope.”
Perhaps the solution requires time and effort from both the community as a whole and the state. Nonetheless, Danna helps us give the first huge step by focusing her lens on the problem. Once we see it and face our own biases about it, we’ll be able to think of a solution.
The photographs on this article belong to Danna Singer’s series, If It Rained an Ocean. If you want to see more of her work, you can visit her website.
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