“Hidden in Plain Sight: Portraits of Hunger in NYC,” by Brooklyn-based photojournalist Joey O’Loughlin, presented in an exhibition by Food Bank for New York City and Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS), reflects the extraordinary diversity of location, population and experience in food pantries throughout New York City, where hundreds line up to receive free groceries. The exhibit raises awareness of the causes and impact of food poverty as a devastating reality of contemporary urban life.
For nearly three years, O’Loughlin documented the people behind the statistics by photographing and interviewing clients at Food Bank for New York City’s network of food pantries — the last line of defense against hunger for New Yorkers in need — to reveal the people who run them, and the people who wait in their lines. Through these images, O’Loughlin asks the question, “What would you be willing to do if you couldn’t afford to feed your children?”
“People are always shocked to learn that one in five people on our pantry lines has a job,” said Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank for New York City. “No one wants to believe that you can work your entire life and still not be able to afford food. The myth is, they did something wrong. The fact is, they didn’t. Children, the working poor and the elderly on fixed income are the most severely affected by hunger. These are the faces highlighted in this exhibit in order to combat the myths about hunger. We hope that this exhibit and related programming will foster empathy and awareness among New Yorkers, and inspire them to advocate for hunger-relief resources and opportunities that so many of us now need to survive in this challenging economy.”
The exhibit takes viewers from food pantry lines to the home pantries. While most food pantries work hard to ease the experience, lining up for food can be dehumanizing. On the line, you’re both on display and socially invisible, but at home, you’re like everyone else. By juxtaposing images of food lines with those taken inside people’s homes, this exhibit puts a face on the everyday New Yorkers — often strong mothers and grandmothers — who must participate in the complicated economic balancing act that allows them to stay in their homes and retain their family dignity. As family dinner is a universal point of connection, the exhibit also features images of home-cooked meals made from pantry groceries. Family history and personality are revealed in images of meals and around the table.
“We are proud to exhibit the thought-provoking images in ‘Hidden in Plain Sight,’” said Deborah Schwartz, president of BHS. “O’Loughlin’s photo essay continues the mission of BHS to tell stories which have been overlooked, yet are part of our collective experience and living history. Our hope is that this exhibition sparks a conversation about the inequalities in food access that affect us all, and the solutions we can work on together to overcome them.”
“The photos in this exhibit are meant to foster connections between the people standing on the lines and the people who walk by them, unaware,” O’Loughlin said. “The intimate details of family life that were shared with me by generous pantry users are an invitation to consider what we all have in common, and what as a society, we should be invested in preserving. Our hope is that this exhibit and the powerful public programming that will be offered will encourage conversation and civil action that will move us towards a brighter future for those in need.”
Nearly one in five New Yorkers relies on Food Bank for New York City’s programs and services. During the past year, the organization has seen the need for emergency food in New York City increase while the resources required to combat hunger and poverty have decreased. The number of meals that vulnerable New Yorkers are missing due to lack of sufficient resources tops a staggering 241 million, representing an enormous meal gap. The meal gap, adapted as the city’s official measure of food insecurity, has now been geographically mapped to reveal where hunger lives — enabling Food Bank to allocate resources to areas with the highest need across New York City. (BHS)
Joey O’Loughlin is a photojournalist, producer and writer with more than two decades of experience in news, informational and cultural programming. She also earned a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Her photographic work and narrative skills support social justice and humanitarian efforts in the United States and around the world. O’Loughlin lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Hidden in Plain Sight” by Joey O’Loughlin, presented by Food Bank for New York City and Brooklyn Historical Society, is currently on exhibition through Nov. 13, 2016, at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
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