Follow Photographer Matt Black’s Journey Thr...

Follow Photographer Matt Black’s Journey Through Impoverished America

Scrolling through Instagram for most people is a means of everyday escapism to highly edited snapshots of vacations, parties, and meals. Transient photographer Matt Black is putting a realist spin on this experience during a road trip documenting poor communities across the US. Dubbed the Geography of Poverty, Black combines geo-tagging and census data to each black and white photo along his route (pictured below), adding a sense of depth and scale to poverty in the US. The project is viewable on Instagram and Twitter, as well as on MSNBC.

Matt Black-Geography of Poverty-Map-USAIn an interview with The Guardian, Black explains: “In the mainstream media, poverty is often looked at in isolation, but it is an American problem. It seems to me that it goes unreported because it does not fit the way America sees itself.”  This is Black’s second summer trip photographing for this project. Posting updates through Instagram has brought about comments ranging from grief to surprise to recognizing an aspect of one’s own community.

Matt Black-Geography of Poverty-Corcoran-California

Corcoran, CA. The population is 24,813 and 28% live below the poverty level.

Zooming into the poverty profile infograph on, it isn’t surprising that 37% of New Yorkers live below the poverty line. A longer report on the North East region written by Trymaine Lee focusing on Flint, MI and other Northeast post-industrial cities, raises alarm to the dire circumstance of areas not normally dubbed as troubled. In Flint General Motors employed more than 80,000 of its 200,000 residents in the 1960s and 70s. Today GM employs around 5,000 workers. The city has never recovered from this massive loss of jobs—poverty and crime are widespread. The loss of power for unions representing manufacturing workers has led to falling average wages. Black’s accompanying photographs depict a school in Detroit, MI, a vacant shopping center in Toledo, Ohio, and train station in Buffalo, NY, all shuttered. Representative of alarming rates of poverty, these photographs of abandoned community centers have a sense of repetition—piles of paint peels; a massive crowd of birds idling—which speaks to systemic downward spiral.

Matt Black-Geography of Poverty-El Paso-Texas

El Paso, TX. The population is 649,121 and 21.5% live below the poverty level.

Traveling across the US to capture to photograph poor communities is reminiscent of the goal of Resettlement Association (RA), later called the Farm Security Administration (FSA), photographers during the Great Depression, including James Walker Evans. Walker Evans’ photographs of 1940s Southern sharecroppers accompanied James Agee’s retelling of relentless poverty and consequences in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Other FSA photographers, such as Dorothea Lange, traveled across the US during Roosevelt’s New Deal era producing iconic photos, such as “Migrant Mother,” which rallied the public opinion on the harmful impact of unemployment.

Matt Black-Geography of Poverty-Allensworth-California

Allensworth, CA. The population is 471 and 54% live below the poverty level.

70 years later, Black carries on the tradition of documentary photography as a means of bringing awareness to underrepresented communities. He captures a vast and heavy emptiness in each shot, illustrating a balance of integrity and need in portraits of buildings, field workers, and the homeless. With the help of data journalists, Black attaches each image to interactive data infographics so the viewer sees how a group or individual plugs into larger race, societal, and economic epidemics. His travel route was mapped out using census data so that Black has to drive no more than two hours to reach another affected town.

Matt Black-Geography of Poverty-Stockton-California

Stockton, CA has a population of 291,707 and 25.8% live below the poverty level.

Matt Black-Geography of Poverty-Tulsa County-Oklahoma

Alturas has a population of 2,827 and 29.3% live below the poverty level.

Buffalo, NY. The population is 261,310 and 30.7% live below the poverty level.

Buffalo, NY. The population is 261,310 and 30.7% live below the poverty level.


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Lorraine is a cultural writer and editor based out of the Lower East Side. She has previously been published by Artnet News, Art Zealous, and is currently Assistant Editor at Where New York and IN New York, where she oversees both dining and gallery coverage. When not writing she co-produces a video series “Artists of New York,” focused on artists especially influenced by New York as their space.