Below The Line: Portraits of American Poverty

Joakim Eskildsen for TIME
Joakim Eskildsen for TIME
Eric, 3, lives with two siblings, their mother and grandparents in a trailer park for migrant farm workers in Firebaugh, Calif. His grandmother regularly walks two miles with him to pick up free food from the local community center to supplement the family’s $350/week income.

Correction appended Nov. 18, 2011: A previous version of a caption in this slideshow incorrectly stated that a house had toxic drywall. TIME regrets the error.

In 2010, more Americans lived below the poverty line than at any time since 1959, when the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting this data. Last January, TIME commissioned photographer Joakim Eskildsen to capture the growing crisis, which now affects nearly 46.2 million Americans. Traveling to New York, California, Louisiana, South Dakota and Georgia over seven months, Eskildsen’s photographs of the many types of people who face poverty appear in the new issue of TIME. Eskildsen, who last visited America in 1986, says the poverty crisis was a side of the country he’d rarely seen in the media in Berlin, where he is based. “For Europeans living outside of America, it’s a mythical place because we’re breastfed with all those images of Coca-Cola and American culture,” Eskildsen says. “It was very heartbreaking to see all kinds of people facing poverty because many of these people were not only economically poor, but living in unhealthy conditions overall.”

Eskildsen was also surprised by how pervasive poverty is in America. “Once you start digging, you realize people in poverty are everywhere, and you can really go through your life without seeing them before you yourself are standing in the food stamp line,” he says. “So many people spoke about the disappointment of the American Dream—this, they said, was the American Reality.” In the accompanying magazine story, Barbara Kiviat argues that “there is no single archetype of America’s poor,” and that “understanding what poverty is in reality—and not in myth—is crucial” to efforts to erase the situation. Perhaps equally as crucial is the effort to put a face to the statistic, which Eskildsen has done here in haunting detail.

Joakim Eskildsen is a Danish photographer based in Berlin. He is best known for his book The Roma Journeys (Steidl, 2007). More of his work can be seen here

The project was done in collaboration with Natasha Del Toro, reporter for TIME.

Feifei Sun is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @Feifei_Sun or on Facebook.

Related Topics: , , , ,

Latest Posts

A man carries a child as another lies dead after two explosions on a beach in Gaza, July 16, 2014.

Why Violent News Images Matter

A recent slew of situations resulting in catastrophic violence and death has led to a renewed debate as to what kinds of imagery media outlets should be expected to show, writes Fred Ritchin

Read More
Ebola in Sierra Leone for the Washington Post

PJL: September 2014 (Part 1)

Zapruder film frame #372 of Kennedy assassination showing Mrs. Kennedy climbing towards Secret Service agent who is attempting to board back of limousine after Pres. Kennedy has been shot. Dallas. United States. Nov. 22, 1963.

When Amateur Photographers Make the Front Page

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 15,862 other followers