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PHOTOGRAPHY

American Realities: How Poverty Looks Like In One Of The Richest Countries

Por: María Isabel7 de octubre de 2021

Danish photographer Joakim Eskildsen traveled throughout the United States in search of the places with the highest poverty rates. What he found, after seven months, radically changed his view of American culture.

Far from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the urban areas that usually come to mind when idealizing the United States, the cosmopolitan condition vanishes after a couple of hours of traveling by freeway towards the course of the Mississippi. It is there where the real America appears. An unprecedented face of the nation that willingly carries the privilege of calling itself the land of opportunities par excellence; the one where everything is possible with effort; bastion and cradle of liberalism, the same one that through the courage of the founding fathers achieved freedom and democracy.

It is in this America that the more than 40 million poor people, who live in one of the countries that amass the most wealth in the world, are concentrated. In these lost towns somewhere between the Pacific and the Atlantic, the compass never points north.

Instead, it carries the legacy of the South; the South of the tobacco and cotton plantations; the South that fought to the last minute to maintain slavery, even though Jefferson himself (with all the 600 black slaves who served him in Monticelli) had decreed the equality of all men in the Act of Independence four centuries earlier.

At the beginning of the decade (2011), Danish photographer Joakim Eskildsen traveled through the states of New York, California, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Georgia in search of the locations with the highest rate of poverty in the United States. What he found after seven months radically changed his view of American culture.

In these places, none of a family's children can go to college because of the high price of education. These are the locations that shape the statistic that more than half of American households have a gun at home. Places that, despite being far from the metropolis, fully receive the influence of the media. The photographer noted that "most people feel like failures because they cannot embody the ideals presented to them on TV."

However, he also perceived the reproduction of a discourse held by the majority of individuals above all difficulties, which floats in the air and remains stoic as an inalienable truth: the American dream.

History lessons in basic education have an effect. From their perspective, there is no country greater than America, and this greatness lies in the family, conservative and Protestant values that are fiercely held within the star-studded flag. These are the faces of people who, though they have never lived it, believe vehemently in the American dream and consider going to war as vital and heroic an act for their nation.

Most have no doubts about the current state of affairs. There is no criticism of their government's gun policy, nor gun ownership, as the canons upon which the maxim of the Second Amendment and national security rest, are renewed in every sphere, from television to a weekend of hunting. Nor do they question migration, police brutality against African-Americans, or what other horizons beyond their county are like.

However, a few more people are skeptical about this situation, especially the most destitute, who live on vouchers and coupons, have no food options other than fast food, and seem destined to subsist on the margins of an illusion that they believe they can feel, but that fails to materialize no matter how hard they try.

"The myth of the American dream is very strong in the United States, and it seems that people are disillusioned with the fact that it is very difficult to fulfill today. Americans claim that there is no more American dream. This - they say - is the American reality." 

Learn more about Joakim Eskildsen's work and the American Realities series on his Instagram profile.

Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards


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