Excerpt from Speech made by photographer Nadine Hutton at the opening of her exhibition ‘I have fallen’ in public space in Sandton Central, Tuesday 28th July 09.
As a photojournalist I have always avoided representations of the people I photographed as the “other” but several years ago, I realized that much of my work was looking outside of my own experience.
As photographers much of our time is spent looking outwards, finding angles to approach stories of other people’s lives and while I was making good features, I wanted more…
I have an interest in finding new ways of working. Moving on from conventional methods of documentary photography in which the photographer remains non-interactive - to a position where the photographer extends beyond her status of observer into participation.
I wanted to tell more personal stories. Stories that represented my experience.
In 2004 I started working on a project to document my family. I had always known I had an interesting story, the stuff of novels, my friends told me but such personal work requires enormous courage and I was just beginning to find that within myself.
So when the editor of the Mail & Guardian approached me to accompany a reporter who wanted to do a story about poor whites living in Vanderbijlpark I jumped at the opportunity.
I was born into a typical poor white family in Johannesburg, my father already absent, leaving my 26-year-old mother with 5 children to support. And the strain of being poor leads to many social ills within families.
When I was 16 I was sent to children’s home when family life was no longer tenable. At the children’s village I was given a safe place to live and the chance at further education. My education had always been important to me. I knew it was something no one could ever take away from me, and that education was my way of breaking the cycle of poverty.
And while we were never as poor as those I met on the project, I recognized a commonality of experience.
The story became a personal project. I saw it as a way of disrupting the political and photographic stereotype usually associated with this subject.
While my intentions are neither to sentamentalise nor seek sympathy for the subjects neither is it to ridicule.
I was struck by how inadequate the responses of government and civil society have been in addressing the needs of these people who now live as the poorest of the poor.
Having been deprived of their previously ‘privileged’ position, the white poor are now seeking ways to adapt or at least survive. And we all know that when we are in survival mode, we are hardly living.
On the long road to today, I’ve been asked many times why I chose to focus on white poverty, when the vast majority of black south Africans live in great and greater poverty?
It is my intention to emphasize similarities over differences. This exhibition forms part of my broader body of work that looks at novel ways of telling South Africa’s stories. Especially those social issues that are often neglected or not deemed newsworthy.
White poverty is not new, or specific to South Africa. Yet perceptions of who can or cannot be poor (or rich) persist in the mind of many of her citizens.
In a country where the gap between rich and poor is ever increasing, poverty in South Africa no longer has an exclusively black face. More and more white people are joining the ranks of the poor on a daily basis. Poverty is becoming less of a racial issue and more of a South African problem.
It is my conclusion that poverty knows no colour, and especially in the context of the global economic crisis it is ultimately the world's poorest who will be worst hit.
Images of 'I have fallen' exhibition opening on Tuesday 28th July 09 - showing visitors as well as Nadine with a crew from Alexandra where the show previewed on Monday.