Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Material Worlds

In the past, I have taught a lesson a few times using pictures from the photo-essay, Material World.  The collection of photographs found families that reflected the statistical average income, family size, and household for each of several selected nations.  The families, who were visibly proud to participate, were asked to sit in front of their home with all of their possessions.  The images are compelling, to say the least.

Not only are the images from India and Mali, among others, surprising to most of my students, the picture of the average family from the United States may have been more so.  Kids in the class are already aware that most families of the world live with fewer belongings and resources than they do, but many truly believe that they are average within the United States.  It was interesting to see their responses to what is truly average in the United States, as well as how much poverty can exist in the world's richest and most powerful country.

Below are some images from the Material World book, documentary and photo essay:

The Wu Family of China

The Yadev Family of India

The Natomo Family of Mali

United States
The Skeen Family of the United States

All images are copyrighted to Peter Menzel.  Source:

I was excited to learn that there is a new, similar photo-essay created more recently by James Mollison.  In his pictorial essay, he allows us to see into the lives of children through photographs of where they sleep each night.  Where Children Sleep shows many children from the United States, as well as from several other nations, showing everything from overflowing toy shelves of beauty pageant crowns and dolls to a mattress with scattered blankets next to railroad tracks in Italy. 

Middle schoolers are, perhaps, at the perfect age to begin to see and truly understand the strata between rich and poor both in the United States and around the world.  In the past, we have always had fruitful discussions about these images, and I was excited to hear that there was another more current photo-essay. 

You can see twenty images from Mollison's book on the New York Times "Lens" blog, linked below.

New York Times Lens Blog - Where Children Sleep


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