Here is your assignment,
Post a Jacob Riis photograph and try and find its parallel in contemporary American life (drawn from newspapers, magazines, etc) and comment on the between the two photos.

riis_plank_for_bed.jpgNot only is this an older woman but according to the photo headline, the plank behind her is her bed. Now adays so much emphasis is put on not looking your age and 40 is the new 30..etc. But the poverty and labor this womens body has gone through shows on her face and the piece of wood she calls bed. homeless-old-woman.jpgThis is from September 2011 and was from an article about poverty being the highest ever in 50 years. This women who is probably much older than the women above, doesn't even have a plank to sleep on, only the cement.
-Victoria levy

Poverty is hard to swallow, but when you see children living in poverty, it just about breaks your heart. We hope that our government takes care of its citizens, but sometimes it is hard to see progress. America's government can be very duplicitous, especially when you notice the medium income in the US has dropped 2.3% this past year alone after inflation (The number increases to 6.8% when you account for inflation.) This is not altogether surprising considering we watched the the global food price rise 37 percent this last year. 46.2 million Americans are now living in poverty, which accounts for about 15.1% of the population, and the numbers don't stop rising.
In California, we have countless families struggling to get by. I choose both of these photos because I wanted to show that poverty does not just affect people who "deserve" it, but children as well. Children are a symbol innocence, yet some are quick to forget their helplessness when we consider our actions against other human beings. People don't want to see poverty because it makes them feel guilty for living a life of comfort, but I don't think people's reactions should be guilt. People should feel inspired to better themselves and the world around them. It is only when people decide to change their opinions and their actions that they are able to make a positive impact on the community surrounding them. Without action, nothing is possible.

Riis Photo
Contemporary Photo

The first photo depicts a homeless man sleeping on two barrels I believe, and the second photo is of a homeless man sleeping on the street. They are very similar, both are showing homeless men sleeping outside, the only difference is that the man in Jacob Riss' photo has some padding and a blanket and looks like he is in a more secluded area, while the other gentleman has nothing but the clothes on his back and it looks like a shopping bag underneath his head while he's sleeping out in the open. Nonetheless they are both showing an image of someone who doesn't have a home to go to, a safe and warm place to sleep. I think we talked briefly about homeless people in class awhile ago, I just remember Matt asking who usually gives to the poor. These pictures make me sad because I wish that no one had to suffer like this.


Jacob Riis photo

Contemporary photo
Both pictures depict a mother and her child living in unsuitable conditions. Riis struggled to bring to light the affect that one's environment had on their standard of living through his realism based photography. In contemporary art, photographers are still doing the same thing. They are exposing the real life world, the world that not everyone enjoys living in. The downtrodden appearance of both women is clearly depicted, along with the living conditions. Although, Riis' subjects appear to be somewhat better off, as the live in an actual structure. Whereas the contemporary subjects are clearly homeless.


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Here are two images of beggars. It’s interesting to see that begging has become more sophisticated. Signs seem to be a requirement now, while in Riis’ photo only a container is needed. The modern image shows a man who appears to be offering a service for money. He is trying to compel people to offer him money by giving them something in return, but offering a poem also seems to be a drive at sympathy because poetry is often seen as containing emotion. He may be a well educated person who ended up in a bad circumstance. The man in the Riis photo seems to just be looking for sympathy. And I think he looks better groomed and dressed than the modern image. I wonder whether people tried using methods like the modern image shows? Ultimately, people still find themselves unable to earn a living and need to find a way to survive. --Mark



In the original picture I chose, Riis is depicting a classroom from the Depression era. You will notice that it is an all boys classroom and the setting is very formulaic and structured. For the contemporary picture I specifically selected a picture of a parochial school classroom so that the differences between the two photos wouldn't be as severe. Unlike in Riis' picture, there are both boys and girls that are pupils. Another difference between the two is that the second group of students appears to be much more engaged in the learning process and while they too are in uniforms, they're sitting on the floor instead of on benches. The culmination of these things shows the evolution of the classroom in American life. That evolutionary change would only be that much more apparent if a public school classroom had been used for the comparison. --Meagan

Jacob Riis Photo
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Contemporary Photo
Combination of factors: the high immigrant birth rate and low employment rate both help to place Hispanic children in the majority of the country's poor
Combination of factors: the high immigrant birth rate and low employment rate both help to place Hispanic children in the majority of the country's poor

Both of these photos depict the living situations of families in poverty, but from very different time eras. Each picture shows seven family members all dwelling in the same, very small living space. The family members range small children to grandparents. The pictures also show their worldly possessions surrounding them showing that they are trapped with no other place to go. By comparing these two pictures, over 100 years apart, it doesn’t appear that much has changed in American society when dealing with the poor or lower class. Each family is trying to stay together, keep food on the table, and a roof over their heads. It makes me wonder, where is the Jacob Riis of today? Showing the harsh realities of our society may make us squirm in our seats, but it may also prompt action.~~Gina

Taken in 1909 by Riis, the above photo shows child laborers working at a textile factory in good 'ol Macon, Georgia.
What leaps we have made in abolishing this practice of cheap labor from small hands! Oh wait...

This photo shows a child working in a Delhi fabric shop. He doesn't even get to use the machines! It's so nice to be able to still have cheap cloth, but even nicer when we don't have to look at the ongoing use of child labor in countries thousands of miles away. That's why I always buy "Hencho en Mexico" so that I can support my child neighbors down south. But seriously, when can this end? Probably never. As Thomas DeGregori points out in his article "Child Labor or Child Prostitution", that in places like Bangladesh, where the U.S. pressured the textile industry to stop using child labor, an increase in child prostitution was the result. -Richard

Jacob Riis Photo: This picture depicts a very dilapidated couple of buildings. The picture itself is called "Dens of Death". The name obviously implies that those who reside in these buildings are not living a very good life. In fact, they are more often dying in them than living in them. The government would not offer any help to those living in these situations.
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Contemporary: The photo was taken after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The picture is of the countless FEMA trailers that the victims of the hurricane were made to live in. Although the government offered the initial aid, these people are still living in these trailers which were not meant to accommodate an entire family for as long as they've been made to accommodate them. Although they may not be considered 'Death Dens', it is yet another show of the lack of adequate government involvement.
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-Amanda Ising

My search for "slums" produced many results, the photo of the slums of Rio above being typical. As a contemporary analogue it shares many similarities with Riis' work, such as the photo of Hell's Kitchen below.
What is notable to me however is that the above photo is actually atypical of Riis' work overall. Most of his photos seem to work on the level of portraiture or tableau. His pictures usually have a human element that even many contemporary images seem to lack. For example, the Brazilian photo has an almost landscape quality by contrast and it removes the observer from the scene to another level of abstraction, unlike most Riis photos which prominently feature close-ups of people.
Of course there are many current examples of ground level activism as well as humanized depictions of poverty to be found. However I was suprised to find so many examples of what seems to be romanticized and abstracted concern for the problem. A kind of concern perhaps best exemplified by something I discovered called "poverty tourism" (link hereand here). Indeed this kind of view seems to put the people on the same level as the slums themselves, making them just another element of the landscape.

-Fletcher S.

Jacob Riis Photo: This photo is of the Tenements that were used to house people who were homeless otherwise. I believe that they were multi family housing, where many different families lived in close quarters. From the picture you can tell that the conditions were below poverty level to say the least. The blankets and mattresses are filthy and there looks to be more than 3 men living just in that corner. It is amazing to me how dirty and unhealthy there life was yet they made it work as much as they could.
Contemporary Photo: I feel that the modern day homless shelter is the equvalent of the tenements of that time. Although the building that the men are living in is in a far better state, the men still appear the same. Living in an environment in such close quarters with each other as in the tenement must still be challenging. The cots that they use to sleep on are in better condition but no more comfortable than the above picture. I think the two pictures show how the government of the time took care of homeless people. Sadly, beside the cleanliness of the contemporary building, there seems to be not a lot of difference between then and now.

-Amber Taylor



Above is a photo taken by Riis of a "hammock style" New York City, lodging house. I imagine places such as these to be far worse than any of the terribly filthy motels situated on Esplanade here in our fair city. Below is a contemporary parallel of the Riss photo. This was taken of a winter homeless shelter in San Diego, a place that is not often associated with homelessness. Although to be fair I would have to say that the homeless in San Diego in the winter depicted in the lower photo, are in the lap of luxury in comparison to their historical counterparts from New York in Riis's photograph.



This photo above, is of three homeless children trying to find a place where they can sleep. They are called "street arab" or "street children" refering to the fact that they live on the streets. These children were sleeping near mulberry street. What is interesting in this photo is how there are no adults around. During this time period there was much less government help toward the homeless and orphans.
This photo of Tent City in Sacramento, Ca shows the difference between homelessness a hundred years ago, contrasted to today's homeless. In Tent City, a family may use a tent to secure a lot within the designated area. This allows the residents of tent city to form their own community, which in return strengthens each other into becoming more stable. Sleeping outside on concrete is much worse than sleeping inside a tent on the ground surrounded by likewise people.

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Children in Poverty
Children in Poverty

The first photo was taken by Riis in 1890 and is titled, "Minding Baby, Cherry Hill". I thought that the modern equivalent was very similar in depicting the abandonment of poor children by their community and their own families. These children are often left to look after their own siblings, especially if their parents are gone working or drinking, etc. They do not receive the support necessary for successful development, and are instead left to fend for themselves without proper direction. It is very difficult to see contemporary examples of poor children facing the same struggles as children during Riis's time. They often slip under the radar of governmental systems, such as healthcare and education, and in many instances are never able to escape poverty in the same ways that children of Riis's time had no chance of success.
-Alyssa M
The first photo shows at least 5 people crowded into a tiny living space, forced to share beds and live uncomfortably. The contemporary photo shows many children sharing a bedroom, some of them having to sleep on the floor. The Jacob Riis photo shows more extreme conditions, since their whole home ins confined to a tiny space, whereas the children are only seen in a bedroom; presumably there are other living areas they can use at some times. Both have the same cause though-- not being able to afford bigger living spaces, perhaps having to share with another family to lower the cost. --Sara