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New exhibit at the Mpls Photo Center puts a face on 21st century poverty in America

A remarkable exhibition of documentary photography at the Mpls Photo Center, “In Our Own Backyard: U.S. Poverty in the 21st Century,” lays bare the human toll of 21st century poverty in the United States.

A photo from the series "Driftless: Stories from Iowa."
Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier
A photo from the series “Driftless: Stories from Iowa.”

A remarkable exhibition of documentary photography at the Mpls Photo Center, “In Our Own Backyard: U.S. Poverty in the 21st Century,” lays bare the human toll of 21st century poverty in the United States. The timing of exhibit’s opening over the July 4th weekend was provocative and intentionally ironic — what more fitting time to spotlight the plight of those who, as LBJ said more than 40 years ago, “live on the outskirts of hope” than on the day of our nation’s most patriotic celebration?

The images on view are potent. Some of this impact can be traced to the participating photographers’ technical and aesthetic prowess — even the most wrenching shots are, quite simply, gorgeous to behold. But it’s the sheer humanity of the work, the naked hope and despair captured with such candor and vulnerability, that hits you in the guts and won’t let go.

I guarantee the faces in these images will linger in your mind long after you leave the gallery: an impossibly young child wearing the too-big clothes provided by criminal justice system in which he’s ensnared; migrant farm laborers sweating to work land they’ll never own; toddlers, newly minted graduates, and young brides whose proud smiles shine with the promise of rising above their circumstances.

The exhibition, “In Our Own Backyard,” is part of an ambitious nationwide project by the same name, spearheaded by a consortium of photojournalists across the country whose aim is to use their lenses to bring American poverty out of the shadows of obscurity and more fully into public discourse. Among the photographers with work on display now at the Mpls Photo Center are Jon Lowenstein, Eli Reed, Danny Wilcox Frazier, Steve Liss, Carlos Gonzalez, Rick Friedman, Brian Peterson and Richard Sennott. You can see many of the images from the photo essays in the exhibit online here.

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“In Our Own Backyard: U.S. Poverty in the 21st Century” will be on view through Aug. 30. Visit the Mpls Photo Center’s website for details on the upcoming panel discussions scheduled through mid-July.