Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Stark Images of Child Poverty Stephen Shames's Photographs Underscore the Urgent Need for Jobs, Education, and Housing

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Stark Images of Child Poverty Stephen Shames's Photographs Underscore the Urgent Need for Jobs, Education, and Housing

Article excerpt

PHOTOJOURNALIST Stephen Shames spent close to eight years capturing on film what has become a national disgrace: child poverty in America.

His photographs underscore often-reported statistics: About 12 million children - 1 in every 5 - in this country live in poverty. One-third of all poor people are children, and the number is growing.

Seventy-five of Shames's photographs are currently on view at the International Center of Photography in New York. While the subject is grim, Shames's treatment of children in poverty doesn't aim for mere shock, pity, or sympathy. Rather he presents these children and their surroundings in an "in-your-face" fashion, leaving you no choice but to look, think, and possibly be provoked to action.

Shames's chronicling - from 1984 to 1992 - grew out of a suggestion by Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund. The project resulted in a book - "Outside the Dream: Child Poverty in America" - copublished by the Children's Defense Fund and Aperture. In January, sponsors sent the book to every member of Congress, to governors of all 50 states, and to the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Shames's collection has won several awards, including the Kodak Crystal Eagle Award for Impact in Photojournalism, and awards from World Press and World Hunger Year.

In the exhibition, Shames's black-and-white photographs loom large, featuring the children who live in welfare hotels, sleep on the street, deal drugs, raise other children, and try to hope for a better future. A few photos are new additions (not found in the book) dealing with homicide in Houston.

"Child poverty is very, very complicated because it intersects with race, family issues, morality, economy, political issues, ideas we have about certain groups.... What I really want to do is bring some of those subtleties out to people," Shames said during a phone interview.

Through Shames's lens the viewer gains not only a glimpse of the children but hints of their everyday circumstances. The captions lend poignancy.

In Ventura, Calif., Kevin, an 11-year-old homeless boy, is asleep in the front seat of a car while his 13-year-old brother sleeps in the back seat. …

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