American History during the Gilded Age
How Jacob Iris’ “How the Other Half Lives” Brought Social Change via Photography Jacob Iris’ “How the Other Half Lives” brought to light the disparity between the exorbitantly wealthy of New York and the immigrants who live in the slums such as the Five Points. Urban populations grew exponentially in the United States when floods of immigrants entered through Ellis Island. During the turn of the 20th century corruption was embedded in every aspect of industry, economy, justice, and politics.
This corruption lead to inequality and a tremendous gap in income and lifestyle between New Work’s upper and diddle class and the lower class composed mostly Of new immigrants. There was little regard for living conditions of the lower class. Work standards were non-existent and the health and safety of laborers were ignored during the Gilded Age. Iris sought to show how this ignorance effected the poorest and most helpless of New Yorkers. Iris first struggled to gain the publics attention to the issue.
However, flash photography changed everything as Iris was able to capture images of the slums so disturbing and unsettling that the country could no longer ignore them. Iris’ photos revealed the unimaginable conditions that the poor had to live in. In “How the Other Half Lives” Iris first called to attention the dramatic rise of tenements in New York. The number of those living in tenements rose to well over one million people in New York. He gave statistic after statistic showing the growing population of the lower class.
As the average incomes for the upper and middle class climbed, the number of people thrown into the lower class with no hope of getting out also rose. It was Iris’ photos that finally got the attention of the nation. The pictures that Iris took were startling. Tenements were exposed to be unsanitary and beyond uncomfortable. There was no light, no fresh air, no plumbing or running water. According to Iris over three-fourths of New Works population lived in these overcrowded breading grounds for diseases. Iris’ photos showed how New Yorker’s were living in the dark, sleeping outside in dirt of alleys, and making their own clothing.
Pictures of women and children living in poverty were aimed to grip the readers heart. Iris’ pictures showed the world how immigrants in urban cities really lived. Iris’ book describes a busy street named Bandits Roost by “the Bend. ” He describes with great detail the activities of Italian immigrants and Polish Jews. Their actions are bewildering. When the sun shines everyone takes their work to the street. There love-making, fighting trading, bartering, cooking eating and laundry can all be seen. A dead goat was apparently taken by an Italian to feast on before the Police could discard of it.
This scene is rather terrifying but words can only do so much to convince people. Written word often seems assistant and a reader can simply remove himself or herself from the paper whenever he or she wishes. Photos put a face on the statistics. One can’t ignore the conditions of the slums after seeing the reality of it through a picture. It is much harder to forget a picture than an article. Written word can only describe a situation rather than directly showing it to someone’s eyes like a picture can. The pictures that Iris took enhanced his writing because it left nothing to the imagination.
Iris presented the slums forwardly so that one can’t disregard his writing as hyperbole. The problem is real and the pictures depict the problem in a very “real” way. The combination of detailed reporting with photo evidence to back up his words made Iris’ book successful. Was Iris’ work unbiased? This is unlikely. Iris previously stated that the purpose for writing “How the Other Half Lives” was to expose the upper and middle class to the New York slums. He aimed to convince them that there was a problem that needed to be addressed.
His goal was to bring about social change, not to report in an unbiased manner that showed all aspects of the issue. His pictures showed the story that he wished to present. No doubt there were a number of pictures Iris decided not to take or took but did not include in his final work because he believed that it did not help his argument. His words and pictures were both tools that he used to persuade others. This does not mean that Iris’ work should be tossed aside. There is nothing wrong with biased work in and of itself. One should just understand that biased work has a purpose to push you towards a certain conclusion.
Iris’ work certainly does that effectively. His work was very important and brought ewe policies and regulations that were much needed. Iris’ book, and more specifically, photographs, helped start a movement that picked up the lower class and alleviated many of the conditions they were living in.