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Photographers Capture Evolving Face Of Poverty

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Photographers have long played a special role in capturing what it means to be poor in America. People like Dorothea Lang, Walker Evans and Gordon Parks helped illustrate what it was like to live in hunger and face material hardships.

But as the country has changed, so too has the face of poverty.

Steve Liss, the project director for AmericanPoverty.org — an organization of photojournalists looking to alleviate poverty in the U.S. — tells NPR's Michele Norris that he and fellow photographers are seeing "how thin the line is between middle class, working poor and poverty."

Liss and a group of photographers started the project "In Our Own Backyard" about five years ago. Liss says they have seen change in that time.

"We're seeing a tremendous increase in families who are seeking services," he says. "We're seeing a tremendous increase in people would not normally have considered themselves vulnerable."

Liss says the poverty is in places you wouldn't expect.

"You see abject poverty 100 miles south of Chicago in Hopkins Park, Ill., you see people living in huts with mud floors in Third World conditions," he says. "If you go up to rural Maine, you see children living in trailers with holes in the floor and no heat in the wintertime. These are things that people don't see, and that's largely because I think the mainstream media hasn't really fulfilled its obligation to provide that kind of imagery, to provide those kinds of stories so that people can engage."

That's his and his fellow photographers' goal — to "take invisible poverty and make it visible once again," Liss says.

"I don't think people really understand or have had the opportunity to see the new face of poverty and that's something that we're endeavoring to do."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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