Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Understanding Poverty", at DiverseWorks

"Parents left me in a motel room at age eight. Put cigarette butts out on my face. Tore my hair out. Left never to return again. I remember lying in that motel bed with the cartoons going and thinking, 'Mommy will be back soon.' I'm 37 years old; Mommy still hasn't come back." -- Judy Pruitt

On December 22, 1991, the Houston Chronicle published a story about a 21-year-old street kid known as "Snow." The moniker had been tattooed on her right arm, permanently stained under the "pure as the driven snow" fair skin from which she took her street name. Snow's story chronicled her street life in Montrose, raised by a household of transvestite prostitutes after being abandoned by her abusive parents. She begged, tricked and stole to survive, had run-ins with the law and delivered three children (each by a different father). One baby was adopted; two were taken by Child Protective Services.

Not only was the story an example of a kind of journalism that is steadily disappearing from mainstream newspapers (gritty, in-depth, real), but it also contained a stunning photojournalism element, which is the main subject of the current DiverseWorks exhibit "Understanding Poverty."

Ben Tecumseh DeSoto was a staff photographer at the Houston Chronicle for 25 years (1981-2006). On assignment in 1988, DeSoto met Snow, whose real name is Judy Pruitt, and the meeting kicked off a relationship — and a kind of collaboration — that continues to today. The photos on display convey narratives that delve into the traumatized psychology of poverty and reveal hard truths about the broken-down system that perpetuates it.

More from Troy Schulze of the Houston Press about the exhibit.

More from DeSoto about his exhibit, including this:

"As a community, we’re not doing enough to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” says DeSoto. “You have Jesus saying, ‘The poor you’ll have with you always.’ Well, that brings up the question, what are we gonna do with them? You can look at things from the attitude that people who fall behind, get left behind. But do we really want to live like that? If you fall behind, you get to live on the streets until the cops tell you to move on. Do we really want a society like that? I think we can do better."

*This post is part of my contribution to Blog Action Day.

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