It's been about 10 years since PBS first aired Ken Burns' wonderful documentary, "New York, A Documentary Film". In one of the middle episodes, the film focuses on the photojournalistic work of Jacob Riis, a Danish immigrant who investigated the realities of the tenements of the lower West Side. Riis first reported his work in a short magazine article in 1889. He then followed up with a book in 1890, "How The Other Half Lives". The book is replete with photographs and drawings chronicling the abject squalor of the tenements. Many later attributed the work of Jacob Riis as a source for the progressive movement in the early 20th Century, not only in New York City, but throughout the large cities of America.
Today, we face a rapidly deteriorating condition in "middle class" America, which cries out for progressive reform. Many of us thought that was what the last presidential election was all about. Now, much to our chagrin, we realize that this new gilded age of robber barrons is marked by unprecedented corruption and control not only of the political process, but the major news media as well. IMO, it is even more important today to find the Jacob Riis' of our time and promote their work for extensive consumption. Truly, pictures are worth thousands of words!
Exhibit 1: China is the consensus pick to be the next superpower to replace the American Empire. Photojournalist Lu Guang recently won the "W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography for his documentary project “Pollution in China.” His stark photographs of industrial China are "Love Canal America" on steroids.
Exhibit 2: Jonas Bendiksen has documented the fastest growing human habitat in the world, urban slums. This ultra slick interactive documentary allows us to gain unprecendented views of some of the world's most abject poverty and polluted living environments, as well as hear directly from the slum dwellers. What is most startling, and most heart wrenching, is the level of acceptance, and even HOPE, that these people have. Truly remarkable.
The reality here is that these are in-your-face examples of the externalities of Capitalism that have been given short shrift for decades. We have pursued financial globalization, at the expense of globalization of the human condition. As we enter the backside of Hubbert's curve, we should not ignore the evidence that the hubris of prior actions are accelerating the "race to the bottom" that currently characterizes our pursuit of financial globalization. I believe this will find it's balance point closer to the conditions exhibited, rather than our current American experience.
Hopefully, Lu Guang, Jonas Bendiksen and others will awaken the conscience of humanity to insist on a new progressive era. To that end, please share their images with friends, family and other concerned members of society.