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IMAGE HEADER: Danna Singer
The criminalization of poverty in America, one that is inextricably linked to race, is a conversation that often goes overlooked. In a rush to prop up the concept of the American Dream – an aspirational, self-actualized ascent to individual fulfillment – discussions of collective wellbeing often fade into the background. Enter the work of photographer Danna Singer, thoughtful yet troubling images of white working poor communities in a body of work that began in her own hometown in New Jersey. In a larger context, Singer’s work adds a voice and new dimension to a much-needed public dialogue that reconsiders unexamined narratives around class in America.
Future by Danna Singer
DUGGAL ART SCENE: An increasingly discussed topic in documentary photography is the importance of centering work by photographers who are from, connected to or living within a particular community – an insider’s gaze. In many cases, this is talked about in the context of photographing BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). However, there are also undertold stories within white communities in the United States, particularly in terms of class and economic inequity. Can you tell us about your choice to photograph your own community in the series, If It Rained an Ocean?
DANNA: I first started photographing in my community out of necessity. I was a first-year grad student and needed to make work for crit. I would make trips from Connecticut to New Jersey every weekend. I made a few pictures of my family and friends from my old neighborhood. I then made a few more, and so it went. I didn't have any intention of it being a body of work but after a couple of years, I had a collection of images that amounted to a series that looked at the complexities of life for the working poor.
Blackeye by Danna Singer
DUGGAL ART SCENE: In a 2020 series featured in the New Yorker about people living in hotels, you shine a light on economic inequity through personal stories and housing insecurity. What is something you learned through making these photographs that you think the public at large gets wrong about poverty in America?
DANNA: The idea that solutions to poverty are easily earned through hard work and a bootstrap mentality. For many, there is an emotional aftermath that surfaces and pins people down with an overwhelming sense of unworthiness. It is the corrosiveness of the lack of possibility. This problem is the most difficult to overcome.
Ellen by Danna Singer
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Your practice incorporates documentary, fiction and references to art history. What is the role of fiction and constructed photographs in your work? When do you choose or find it necessary to tell a story or make a photograph through a fictional lens?
DANNA: While my work moves between the directed formal image, traditional documentary modes and staged snapshots, I don’t think of it in terms of fiction. A lot of my pictures look at abuse in many forms; sometimes, I have to create ways to say it and other times, it is right in front of me. I sometimes find that I can get at a greater truth with directed images more so than through documentary modes. When I feel like I’m not getting at what I want to say in one form, I will intervene and use another.
Happy Birthday by Danna Singer
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Lastly, what kind of impact or conversations do you hope to have or instigate by elevating a dialogue around economic disenfranchisement and hardship through your photographic work?
DANNA: My hope is that the work communicates the oppressiveness of classism and what it feels like to live in these spaces. I’d like to create dialogue around the psychological damage that occurs when there are few opportunities for the working-poor in America.
View more work by Danna Singer here: www.dannasinger.com