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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

White Trash Photography Perpetuates Stereotypes

White trash photography actively portrays and depicts prejudice that is both racial and class oriented. The term white trash originated in the early portion of the 19th century, coined by black slaves to refer to the poor white men who would work the fields alongside them. The nature of white trash photography perpetuates the stereotype of the poor white man, living on the edge of 'society.'

There are two archetypes in white trash photography. The first is typically working class, blue collar or lower and remarkable only for their gritty appearance, tired eyes and fatigued expressions. The tone of the pictures indicates a broken down person, scrabbling just to get by.

The second archetype of white trash photography is the jolly old country folk. The Jed Clampett, poor, but proud and capable of an easy smile. The laugh lines are deeply etched into the faces of the subjects. Life may have them at a chokehold, but it won't keep them there. There is a simplicity and faithfulness that is implied in this image. A reminder that a slower paced life has reward.

What is remarkable at the racism inherent in white trash photography is the targeting of social and economic class along with the race. It would be simplistic to suggest that a similarly derogatory theme would not be acceptable were it targeting another race. The images are contradictions, neither as simplistic nor as straightforward as one might imagine.

For example, the jolly old country fellow with his laughing eyes is a reminder to the rat race that how a person chooses to face life is their own choice. White trash photography doesn't seek to be a social consciousness, but does supply a subtler message than what is apparent on the surface. The hardened blue-collar worker, dirty and beaten is the loss of hope. This type of white trash photography reminds what can happen when one does give up, when one allows life to dictate the terms. White trash photography perpetuates a stereotype, but with deliberate invitation to look beneath the surface to the message below.

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