About Photographer:

Stacy Kranitz’s work explores history, representation, biography, personal narrative, and otherness within the documentary tradition. She uses the photograph to consider important social issues while commenting on this tradition and challenging its boundaries. Much of her work focuses on the ways we express aggression and violence in our daily rituals, habits and pastimes. She received a BA from New York University and an MFA from University of California, Irvine. She currently splits her time between working on the road and in the studio. She also teaches and takes assignments for publications including the New York Times, Rolling Stone and Mother Jones. Stacy’s work is in the permanent collections of institutions including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Do Good Fund Southern Photography Initiative.

Entry description: This year marks the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. Millions of government dollars were doled out to initiatives intending to solve the problems of the poor and turn America into the “Great Society” it was meant to be. My research into the origins of this initiative led me to Harry Caudill, a lawyer from eastern Kentucky Caudill was the first person to publicly question the coal operators who came to extract valuable natural resources in Appalachia using processes that obliterated the terrain. 10 years later he saw that nothing was changing for the Appalachian people. He concluded that Appalachia could not be fixed because its people were broken. He came to believe that Appalachia’s gene pool had been watered down by inbreeding among what he called “dullards” who lived on welfare in remote mountain hollers. He concluded that poverty is “genetic in origin” and proposed to offer cash in exchange for sterilization. I find Caudill’s complicated legacy a reminder that there is a lot more to the evolution of a people than the victimhood that has been placed upon them. I learned about Caudill’s dark turn while I was traveling in the region. I abruptly found myself assessing everyone I met, trying to determine whether or not Caudill would consider them “dullards.” In late July I was invited to drink beer with some people in West Virginia. Pat owned a trailer on a street called Tin Can Hollow. His family had lived in this hollow for many generations. I watched as he got into three drunken fistfights. I saw him pick up and throw several chairs and then punch a friend in the face. At the top of Pat’s back, near his neck was a tattoo that read “honkey.” I was pretty convinced I was spending my evening with Caudill’s “dullards”. But what did that mean? Over the next weeks I returned regularly, befriending the people that spent time at Pat’s house. I knew that Pat had his own set of values that were different from prevailing societal norms. People we meet in life can seem at first to represent a stereotype. I did photograph a young man giving his baby Mountain Dew at Pat’s house. But did that make him a bad dad? Aren’t there more important factors to consider like physical abuse or abandonment? I think it valuable for us to question how we arrive at the meaning of poverty. Originally the poor were regarded to be of the highest moral status. But since the 14th century, “poverty” as a label has been used to ostracize certain people. Social Darwinist thinkers influenced attitudes towards poverty during the emergence of capitalism in the late 18th century. Anyone who did not abide by the prevailing pattern of consumption was ostracized. My photographs ask whom do images of poverty serve? Is it possible that the notion of poverty is one that is relied upon by corporate industry to divide our nation into regions of others?