This project would not be possible without generous support from the Independence Foundation and from the George A and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation.
According to United Nations estimates there are more than a billion squatters living today--one out of every six people on earth. This number is expected to double to two billion by 2030. And by the middle of the century there will be three billion squatters.
Squatter communities take on many forms, from the dense conglomeration of multi-story reinforced concrete structures of Rochina in Rio de Janeiro to the sprawling shantytowns of simple huts in Lagos, Nigeria. But they share a common history. People, mostly migrants from rural areas, came to the city in search of work. They were in need of affordable housing that could not be found on the open market. So they claimed a small piece of unused land and built a home. Other residents followed suit, and the result was a new community within the city.
I am working to document daily life in the world’s urban squatter communities. Recently I have photographed in several favelas in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and in the pueblos jovenes of Lima, Peru.
Traditional social theory believed that urbanization would follow industrialization. However many of the worlds mega-cities, particularly those in the developing world, are undergoing massive population growth at the same time they are experiencing a loss of industrial jobs and stagnant economies. Meanwhile, due to mechanized farming, industrial-scale agribusiness, civil war, draught and countless other factors, the hardships of rural life drives many to look for opportunity in the world’s urban centers.
In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with a population greater than one million. Today there are 400, and by 2015 there will be more than 550. Lagos, Nigeria, for example, has grown from a population of 300,000 in 1950 to 14 million today.
Governments around the world have failed to take responsibility for this massive urban migration. Most of the world’s squatters exist in a legal vacuum, working outside of the official economy and living with only tenuous rights to the ground on which they have built their homes. Large-scale evictions have taken place in many cities of the world. Often evicted residents simply move on to another squatter community.
While much is written about the crime and poverty endemic to squatter communities, the realities of everyday life are often lost in the headlines. Many squatters are hard-working citizens who, through lack of education or poor job opportunities, are forced to work in low-paying jobs and do not earn enough to rent or purchase a legal home. The vast majority are not criminals. They are merely looking for a safe place to live. As one squatter living under high-tension power lines in a favela in São Paulo told me, "my dream is to have a legal address".
The Colorado River
The Colorado River isn’t particularly large, but it makes up for its size with its influence on the history, urbanization and agricultural development of the American West.
I have been traveling along the Colorado river to photograph the river itself, the numerous water projects that deliver water to urban and agricultural areas throughout the Southwest, and the communities along the way that depend on the river.
The Colorado provides drinking water for nearly 30 million people in the Southwestern United States. It irrigates millions of acres of farmland that produce the majority of America’s production of fresh winter vegetables. Hydroelectric dams along the river light up the Las Vegas skyline and, before that, provided the electricity needed to build the ships and planes that fought the Second World War.
The river flows for over 1400 miles from its headwaters high in the Rocky Mountains to the Colorado River Delta and the Sea of Cortés. Decades of dam construction and water diversion projects have reduced the river’s flow to the point where in many years fresh water no longer reaches the delta, which has been transformed into a series of small wetlands and brackish mudflats.
Even in good years, the Colorado River operates in a deficit; that is, the amount of water allocated to various states in the 1922 Colorado River Compact is higher than the average flow of the river. Recent draught conditions have reduced the water levels in the major storage reservoirs. Lake mead, formed by the Hoover dam, recently fell to its lowest level since 1937. More water is being released from Lake Powell to help raise levels at Lake Mead, but Lake Powell itself is filled only to about half of its capacity.
The Southwestern United States is one of the few places on earth where so many people are so dependent on the flow of one overused, highly silted and heavily-litigated river. The river is a lifeline for the residents of cities built in a harsh desert landscape.
I use photography to explore contemporary urban life. Working within the tradition of social documentary photography, I make photographs that bring attention to social issues, particularly those related to urban development, income inequality and natural resources.
In this ongoing project, I am working to document the changing landscape of Atlantic City, NJ. The seaside resort was officially opened in 1880 to much fanfare. With its prime location on the Atlantic Ocean and easy accessibility, the city underwent a building boom during the early part of the 20th century. Modest seaside cottages were replaced by glamorous hotels like the Marlborough-Blenheim, the Traymore and Haddon Hall. Pleasure-seekers from all over the world flocked to the city.
This golden age came to an end After World War II, when Atlantic City became plagued by crime, poverty and corruption. In 1976, the Casino Gambling Referendum was passed, and the city was reinvented as a gambling destination.
Today, Atlantic City is a small resort town with big-city problems. In the shadows of the brightly-lit boardwalk casinos; abandoned homes, drugs, crime and poverty are evident. The unemployment rate in the city is 50% higher than the national average and more than a quarter of the housing units within the city stand vacant. Even the casinos are facing tough times. In the face of a stagnant economy and competition from new casinos in neighboring states, many are losing money and laying off workers.
The state legislature has approved Governor Chris Christie’s plan to carve out a state-controlled tourism district. The district would include heavier police presence, beautification and infrastructure improvements and changes to attract new businesses. The plan offers little to city residents who live outside of the beachfront tourism district.
In addition, the state has provided $261 Million in funding for a stalled casino construction project, while last year budget cuts led to the layoffs of police officers and firefighters.