The French newspaper, Le Monde, recently ran an article on a photographic project that is taking place in Philadelphia, called Witnesses to Hunger. In 2008, a public health researcher from Drexel University in Philadelphia, Mariana Chilton, gave 40 single mothers a camera and asked them to document their lives and their struggle to get by. Chilton says that she could no longer handle just dealing with statistics and wanted to find a way to bring some of the reality of these daily struggles to light.
There have been many projects similar to this one over the years and increasingly it seems that the major news networks are relying entirely on the public to send them in content for their news stories. However, as opposed to the CNN ireport's and other 'citizen journalist' programmes, it takes long-term issues that get very little news exposure and gives those that are directly affected the opportunity to document their experiences. In so doing it also aims to give the public some form of deeper understanding of what exactly it can mean to be poor in America today.
From a photographic perspective it is interesting to see shots like these on such a major issue. I found that their total lack of artfulness and the fact that the project does not try to summarise such a complex issue in a handful of images, adds to its potency. Also the use of the web-album format, which seems almost universally devoted to holiday snapshots and friends posing at parties, gives these images a personal touch and somehow brings the viewer closer to these mothers.
Interestingly all of the women who were given these cameras kept them, except for one, and although she sold the camera, she bought several disposable cameras to continue participating in the project.