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Mitch Epstein 1

Liquidation Sale VII, 2000. Mitch Epstein New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana II, 2005. Mitch Epstein

After six months of media pantomime and make-America-proud electioneering, the U.S. presidential scrap finally kicked off last night. At last, we got to the beginning of the start of the business end of choosing the candidates who are to duke it out in November.

The Iowa Caucuses threw up some winners and some losers, but I was most interested in how the billionaire Trump bombed and how avowed Socialist Bernie Sanders went toe-to-toe with the SuperPAC-fuelled Hillary machine.

Strangely, early in the races, news commentary threw Trump and Sanders in together as outsiders and insurgents. They both represented challenges to political orthodoxy. Bernie adheres to the principles of leftie politics; he’s almost by-the-book socialist. A pure version of the left. (Whether Trump is the pure version of rightwing politics, I’ll leave to others to debate. He does seems to have taken conservatives’ hatred to it’s extreme.)

Presidential campaigns invariably come down to economics and 2016 has proved no different. The United States is more than seven years on from the Great Recession and yet still wealth disparity is at the forefront of political debate. Either we (oil) barrel our way out of economic malaise hoping that everyone wins a piece of the wealth-pie or we seek to tax the United States’ gradually growing economy to redistribute the wealth.

Iowa was fascinating because it was the first taste of how voters think about daring approaches to national fiscal management. Trump, an anti-establishment bully of capitalism, lost out in the Hawkeye State whereas Sanders, the optimistic, social program-loving senator held his own.

In this moment, we must remember that the term “The 1%” did not exist in public lexicon before the Occupy Movement. Sanders resonated because he faces the economic facts. We know the economic gap is larger than ever before. What’s this got to do with photography? Well, depicting economic forces and inequality is no easy task. Not one image can do it, but perhaps a collection can. No collection does it better than Myles Little’s 1%: Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality.

In a follow up to my article Photos of the 1% and the Interests They Protect and to mark the occasion of Lyttle’s exhibition making it to book, I have shared Geoff Dyer’s introductory essay on Vantage.

Geoff Dyer on Globalization, Inequality and Photography

This resilience [as read in Lange and Evans’ photographs] was easily incorporated into the ideology of ceaseless endeavour that continues to underpin the system of exploitation that condemned them to destitution in the first place. It’s just that now, instead of loading up your jalopy and heading for California, you take a second, badly paid job; The Grapes of Wrath has turned into Nickel and Dimed. The iconic photographs of the Great Depression, meanwhile, have acquired a kind of stonewashed glamour.

Read the piece in full: Geoff Dyer on Globalization, Inequality and Photography

Jorg Brueggemann 2

Refugees arriving on Kos, Greece, in August 2015. Jörg Brüggemann—OSTKREUZ 
Untitled #5, from Hedge. 2010. Nina Berman—NOOR
Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Monte Carlo, Monaco 2009 David Leventi
Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Monte Carlo, Monaco. 2009. David Leventi
untitled # IV, mine security, north mara mine, tanzania-from the
Untitled #IV, Mine Security, North Mara Gold Mine, Tanzania. 2011. David Chancellor
Chrysler 300. 2007. Floto+Warner 
A chef from a nearby luxury lodge waits for his guests to arrive from a hot air balloon excursion before serving them champagne in the middle of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. 2012 Guillaume Bonn
A chef from a nearby luxury lodge waits for his guests to arrive from a hot air balloon excursion before serving them champagne in the middle of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. 2012. Guillaume Bonn—INSTITUTE
Princess Studio, a wedding photo studio in Shanghai. China. Tong (29) posing for her wedding pictures.
Tong, aged twenty-nine, poses for her wedding pictures at Princess Studio, a wedding photo studio in Shanghai, China. 2013. Guillaume Herbaut—INSTITUTE 
Jeff Koons, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 2012 Henk Wildschut
Jeff Koons, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. 2012. Henk Wildschut
Cole Haan, Chicago, IL, 2013. Brian Ulrich
Michael Light 2
Looking East Over Unbuilt “Ascaya” Lots, Black Mountain Beyond, Henderson, NV. 2010. Michael Light
Marchand Meffre
Rivoli Theater, Berkeley, CA, 2013. Opened as a cinema and performance space in 1925, closed in the nineteen-fifties. Subsequently used by various supermarkets. Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre 
A twenty-five-year-old British man in London undergoes surgery to reduce the size of his nose. 2011. Zed Nelson
Mikhael Subotzky
Residents, Vaalkoppies (Beaufort West Rubbish Dump), 2006. Mikhael Subotzky, courtesy Goodman Gallery

James Richard Verone peers through the glass of a visitation booth at the Gaston County Jail on Thursday June 16, 2011, where he is being held while awaiting trial for an alleged bank robbery. (Ben Goff / The Gazette)

There has been a portrait of an incarcerated man with wide eyes circulating the news this past week (above). Photographer Ben Goff (Flickr here) released of one other image (below) from his assignment photographing James Richard Verone in Gaston County Jail, N.C.

Verone, as Zachary Roth succinctly puts it, “robbed bank to get medical care in jail.” This is a man on the very brink. Or is he? Verone made a very drastic, but reasoned, decision to carry out a non-violent act outside the law. It’s an extreme protest admittedly, but he’s carrying all the risk. So cut him some slack.

Given that he thought through his bank robbing etiquette, waited patiently for the police and explained his motives to the press, don’t you think this man has a complex understanding of consequence? Could this be a photo of a man who knows how image and media work? Admittedly, there is potential that viewers will presume Verone’s mental health – as well as his physical health – is suspect. But could Verone be performing for the camera? I’d like to suggest Verone is in an interaction with one of the few people (Goff) who is in the business of creating testimony to stories so that they may be publicly consumed. As such, Verone consciously provides the exact facial expression he thinks we need to see.

James Richard Verone peers through the glass of a visitation booth at the Gaston County Jail on Thursday June 16, 2011, where he is being held while awaiting trial for an alleged bank robbery. (Ben Goff / The Gazette)

Verone is not pushing a political agenda; he’s trying to save his own life. He is just asking for us to see his truth. If we were in Verone’s circumstances we’d probably be severely unsettled (or, in the vernacular) crazy.

But here’s the paradox of the image: it is easier and lazier to think of Verone, even in a very small way, as crazy than it is to think of him as a rational being; to do so, would push us to ask why a rational person is behind bars. Wouldn’t logic dictate that the medical, societal and legal systems that conspired to put a rational man in jail are in fact themselves illogical?

Verone is a logic-evangelist and we need to see the light.

Within the fabric of our society, there exists a vast gulf between the ways people interface with services and institutions. To me, that is crazy.

I’m partly, suggesting a false dilemma here. There are, of course, more than two alternatives in how we see/react to the portrait. And yet, the glass of the visiting booth provides an excuse for our distance; an us and them; 1s and 0s; have and have-nots; not crazy and crazy.

Goff captions his two images Crazy Eyes and Crazy Eyes 2. Denigratory, clumsy and observant all in one, Goff describes the first startle (the first impression, if you like) Verone gives to his audience. But the introduction is only one part of this cruel photo that brims with abundance.


When I used the phrase “Verone gives to his audience” it was deliberate. That reaction is yours. Take it for free. That reaction is the opening gambit of an interaction between you, Verone and your conscience.

We believe that physical freedom ensures also the freedoms to worship, speech, choice, vote and so on and so forth. But in terms of providing immediate critical health-care, none of those things have provided for Verone. In “free society”, Verone was in economic shackles.


Verone’s dire straits have not been helped by America’s recession. How does Verone’s non-existent $1 bank robbery compare to the Inside Job in 2008 on Wall Street? What do we want to focus on? The pseudo-crime of an individual or the corruption of the finance sector? Michael Capuano, a Democratic representative for Massachusetts, once rebuked a panel of banking executives. He said, “You come to us today telling us we’re sorry, we won’t do it again; trust us. Well, I have some people in my constituency that actually robbed some of your banks, and they say the same thing”.

“Trust Us.” I’m sure Verone has said it to explain his truth, and I’m sure we’d say it too. “Trust us, trust me, I’m not crazy.”


Verone’s story will resurface in the presidential debates I’m sure. It provides cheap political ammo for all parties depending on how it is spun. Verone’s face is read as either the failure of Democrat-led health reform or as the result of Republican-led economic meltdown. In either case, Verone plays both tragic hero and bogey man. Of which, he is neither.


The worst thing we could do would be to presume Verone has achieved, or will achieve, his objective. California demonstrated lethally how facilities of incarceration can fail to provide healthcare that meet minimum constitutional standards.


On the 1st of this month, an Ohio inmate who was denied medical care committed suicide. The prisoner, Greg Stamper hanged himself at Ohio’s Allen Correctional Institution. The press release from the Ohio Justice and Policy Center reads:

[Stamper] was suffering excruciating pain as a result of a nerve condition, and Dr. Myron Shank had refused to give him pain medications multiple times for non-medical reasons.

Stamper has his own truth and logic too. There’s likely two reasons his suicide was not widely circulated in the media. 1) It’s too final and upsetting. 2) Unlike Verone’s story, Stamper’s story is typical for the prison industry.


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