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Matt Black Is TIME’s Pick for Instagram Photographer of the Year 2014

The Californian photographer has spent the last year putting poverty on the map using Instagram

For many of his Instagram followers, Matt Black is a newcomer. He joined the photo-sharing app in December of 2013 to chart, through a series of gritty and deeply personal black-and-white photographs, the physical terrain of economic inequality in his native Central Valley of California, home to three of the five poorest metropolitan areas in the U.S.

“The Central Valley is this kind of vast unknown zone,” Black says. “These towns, these communities are right in the heart of the richest state in the richest country in the world. It’s halfway between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and yet, you still have conditions like these,” where poor communities are left with bad roads, dirty water, crummy schools and polluted air.

Black’s work might be new to Instagram, but the 44-year-old photographer has spent more than 20 years exploring issues of migration, farming and the environment in the area. That was never his intention, though. “When I first started in photography, my goal was to get out of the Central Valley,” he says. “But it quickly became clear to me that if I had a significant thing to say, it would be about the place I’m from.”

Over 100 years, migration, farm labor and poverty have shaped the region, he says. “These are the places that actually produce what feeds the nation, and the irony is that we’re so dependent on these communities for food and yet rarely do people take time to actually look at them and understand what the challenges are, what these folks are facing — what their lives are like.”

Black’s Geography of Poverty project is designed to address these issues. “People should care because we’re all implicated in this system,” he says. “What we pay at the supermarket is what eventually goes to the farms and goes to the farm laborers. We’re all connected. So, [if] I can lift that veil and make that connection between what we eat, the choices we make, and how that impacts real people — communities — that’s the role I can play.”

The best way to do so, Black explains, was by using the unlikeliest of platforms for a photographer who developed his visual identity at a regional newspaper where black-and-white fiber paper prints were the norm.

There’s no doubt that Black is an unconventional choice for Instagram Photographer of the Year. For one thing, he doesn’t always uses an iPhone to shoot the images he posts on his feed – “It’s a mixture of iPhone and a Sony RX 100 camera,” he says, “but it seems like the convention is: if you’re upfront about it, then you’re not cheating, so I’ve been upfront about it.” Second, he’s not a prolific user. In the year since he joined the photo-sharing network, he’s posted 73 images – an average of one photograph every five days. That’s because he doesn’t look at Instagram as a daily journal. “I want each image to contribute and advance this portrait that I’m building, and if I feel like the images that I shot don’t meet that standard, then I don’t publish that day. I’ll wait until the next time.”

For him, Instagram’s appeal resides in its mapping feature – which allows photographers to add geographic coordinates to their images. “Maps are fantastic,” says Black. “They [offer] a complementary augmentation of reality. Photography and maps are similar: they’re born out of the same idea of describing a place for another person to engage with. And, they are right there, together, on that same platform. Without this map, I would not be on Instagram.”

The mapping feature might have attracted Black to Instagram, but the newfound freedom and sense of community is what kept him on the photo-sharing app. “I started Geography of Poverty with 20 followers. I had no clue if people would even understand what this was, and [I didn’t know] whether or not people would want to engage with me over these issues.”

To his surprise, Black found that Instagram users valued substance, engaging with the photographer and his work. “That’s reflected in the comments,” he says. “It’s interesting because in my other work, which are long-term photo essays, I’d spend one or two years trying to tell a story, and people wouldn’t have an opportunity to respond. It was top-down. On Instagram, it’s an unfolding, ongoing narrative, and people engage with that in a new way. It’s something they choose to receive. People take it in. People receive the work in a more intimate way. It’s right there, close to them. You don’t get that same reaction from a gallery show or from a book.”

This, he adds, offers “a fantastic opportunity for photographers to have an independent voice. There are hundreds of millions of people on Instagram wanting to engage with photography. If you’re a photographer working on these issues for so long, how can you not want to reach those people?”

Matt Black is a freelance photographer based in California. Follow him on Instagram @mattblack_blackmatt. In 2013, David Guttenfelder was TIME’s Instagram Photographer of the Year.

Phil Bicker, who edited this photo essay, is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 15

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. To head off surging antimicrobial resistance — which could claim 10 million lives a year by 2050 — we need new drugs and better rules for using the ones we have.

By Fergus Walsh at BBC Health

2. Russia has squandered its soft power.

By Joseph S. Nye in the Journal of Turkish Weekly

3. A resurfaced idea from decades ago could finally unlock nuclear power’s potential to fight climate change.

By Josh Freed in the Brookings Essay

4. To take advantage of the power of diaspora communities to spur development at home, host nations must avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

By by Jacob Townsend and Zdena Middernacht at The World Bank

5. The great recession is over but young and minority Americans are worse off than before.

By Matt Connoly in Mic

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Economy

Wealth Gap Widens Between Whites and Minorities

The gap between white and black household wealth is the highest since 1989

The wealth disparity of U.S. households has widened dramatically along racial and ethnic lines during the recovery from the economic recession, according to a new report.

In 2007, at the start of the recession, white households in the U.S. had a net worth 10 times that of black households. But in 2013, white households were 13 times richer, according to the Pew Research Report out Friday. White households were eight times richer than Hispanic households in 2007 but 10 times richer in 2013.

FT_14.12.11_wealthGapRatios

Researchers note that while wealth of non-Hispanic white households increased a small amount between 2010 and 2013—2.4%—the wealth of Hispanic and black households actually fell dramatically, 14% for Hispanic households and 34% for black households.

Other racial and ethnic minorities were not broken out for analysis in the data compiled by Pew.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 9

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Foreign policy isn’t public relations. The value of releasing the torture report outweighs the risks.

By Daniel Larison in the American Conservative

2. Innovation in design — not technology — might be the key to disrupting industries.

By Todd Olson in Medium

3. The simple notion of community potlucks is working to rebuild the torn fabric of Ferguson.

By Shereen Marisol Meraji at National Public Radio

4. A new poverty alleviation strategy is built on feedback and direction from the actual beneficiaries — putting people at the center of policy.

By Molly M. Scott in RealClearPolicy

5. Women are uniquely positioned to understand the impact of climate change around the world. They must have a seat at the table to set global policy.

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in the Aspen Journal of Ideas

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Demographics

4 Ways Millennials Have It Worse Than Their Parents

millenial money
Adrian Samson—Getty Images

The latest Census numbers show Americans aged 18 to 34 struggling worse than their parents did in the '80s

Millennials make less money, are more likely to live in poverty and have lower rates of employment than their parents did at their ages 20 and 30 years ago.

That’s the bleak assessment from the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey numbers Thursday, which paint a financially disheartening portrait of Americans aged 18 to 34 who are still trying to rebound from the Great Recession.

The survey largely shows that millennials are worse off than the same age group in 1980, 1990 and 2000 when looking at almost every major economic indicator:

1. Median income
Millennials earned roughly $33,883 a year on average between 2009 and 2013 compared with $35,845 in 1980 and $37,355 in 2000 (all in 2013 inflation-adjusted dollars).

(MORE: American Women are Waiting to Have Kids)

2. Leaving home
More than 30% of millennials live with at least one parent compared to about 23% in 1980, largely because they can’t get a job.

3. Employment
Only about 65% of millennials are currently working compared with more than 70% in 1990

4. Poverty
Almost 20% live in poverty compared with about 14% in 1980.

But it’s not all bad news. The new Census numbers show that young Americans are much more diverse and educated than previous generations. About 22% have a bachelor’s degree or higher (up from 16% in 1980), and a quarter have grown up speaking a language other than English at home (up from 10% in 1980).

And possibly the most interesting statistic in the new numbers? A little over 2% of those aged 18 to 34 are veterans, compared with almost 10% in 1980.

Read next: Millennials Are Mooches…and Other Money Myths

TIME poverty

The Homeless of Fort Lauderdale Can Be Fed For Now, Judge Says

City Of Fort Lauderdale Continues To Issues Tickets For Charities Feeding The Homeless Outdoors
Fort Lauderdale Police Officer, Sgt. Al Lerner (R), speaks with Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old chef , as he warns him that he will be cited for feeding homeless in violation of a recently passed city law on November 12, 2014 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Joe Raedle — Getty Images

Critics claimed city unfairly targeted the homeless and individuals providing relief

A court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida ordered authorities Tuesday to refrain from enforcing a controversial law that places restrictions on residents who feed the homeless.

Broward County Circuit Judge Thomas Lynch ordered a month-long suspension of the bylaw in order to allow all sides to enter mediation. The decision was a partial win for 90-year-old activist Arnold Abbot, who challenged the ordinance after being arrested twice in November for serving food to the homeless.

“We’re elated the judge has entered the stay,” John David, Abbott’s attorney, told the Sun Sentinel.

Under the regulation, which went into effect late November, outdoor feeding sites must be equipped with portable toilets and servers must have the permission of property owners to distribute food.

However, critics claim the ordinance unfairly targets the homeless and individuals providing relief to them.

[Sun Sentinel]

TIME europe

Pope Urges ‘Aged and Weary’ Europe to Accept Migrants and Reject Hunger

Pope Francis delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on Nov. 25, 2014.
Pope Francis delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Nov. 25, 2014 Remy De La Mauviniere—AFP/Getty Images

The Pontiff uses address to the European Parliament to argue that migrants need "acceptance and assistance"

At many times in Europe’s turbulent history religious leaders have turned a blind eye to violence and discrimination. At other times faith itself has set the battleground. This awareness heightened both the strangeness and the poignancy of the Nov. 25 speech by Pope Francis to members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The Pontiff wasn’t the most obvious person to deliver hard truths to elected politicians about the rising threats to the democracies they serve, or, as head of the Catholic Church, to convey a blast against global corporations that undermine the democratic process by co-opting institutions, as he resonantly expressed it, to “the service of unseen empires.” Yet standing at the lectern at the center of the plenary chamber, peering through wire-rimmed reading glasses at his script, he did these things and more. The leader of a religion that has created its share of fractures made an eloquent plea for the European Union to rediscover its founding principles of “bridging divisions and fostering peace and fellowship.”

Many factors gave urgency to his words. Europe is grappling with soaring unemployment in the midst of global economic instability and the relentless problems of the euro zone. There is a war within its own borders while brutal conflicts on other continents affect the security of European nations and citizens. The interlocking challenges are compounded by voters’ dwindling trust in the political classes. In speaking to members of these classes, the Pope aimed, he said, “as a pastor to deliver a message of hope” to “a Europe that gives the impression of feeling aged and weary.” A glance around the chamber — built as a hemicycle to encourage members of the Parliament from different political groupings to see each other not as opponents but colleagues — reinforced just how timely that papal message was and the extent to which politicians have become, like the Catholic Church in its darker periods, part of the problem as well as its solution.

Pope Francis emphasized the centrality of human dignity and the equal value of every life. He did so to an assembly of 751 MEPs and other European officials that severely underrepresents the diversity of European populations — only 36.75% of lawmakers are women and only about 5% are from ethnic minorities — while substantially representing views that the Pope singled out for criticism. “One of the most common diseases in Europe, if you ask me, today is the loneliness of those who have no connection to others,” he said. This phenomenon could be observed among the isolated old and the alienated young, the poor and “in the lost gaze of the migrants who have come here in search of a better future.”

“Unity doesn’t mean uniformity,” the guest speaker told an audience overwhelmingly composed of middle-aged white men in suits. “In point of fact all real unity draws from the diversities that make it up.” To that audience he set out a list of priorities. It was, he ventured, “intolerable that people are dying each day of hunger while tons of food are thrown away each day from our tables.” He won a round of applause with a call “to promote policies that create employment but above all it is time to restore dignity to work by restoring proper working conditions.” He also highlighted Europe’s failure to achieve “a united response to the question of migration. We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast graveyard. The boats landing daily on Europe’s shores are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance.”

Listening to him were members of mainstream parties who have contributed to that failure and representatives of fringe parties — now achieving such electoral success that they may not for much longer remain on the fringes — who are arguing for the dissolution of the European Union and the turning away of migrants. It seems unlikely that members of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), or France’s hard-right National Front party will have been swayed by his words any more than Ian Paisley, at the time the apparently implacable voice of Northern Irish Protestant loyalism, could be persuaded to give a fair hearing to Pope John Paul II’s 1988 speech to the European Parliament, the last such address by a Pontiff to the body until Francis took the floor.

Eventually, however, Paisley did learn to stop bellowing and to prize peace above division, at least to some extent. European history is full of such encouraging examples alongside its gloomier lessons. Pope Francis reminded Europe of its capacity for good. In so doing, he continues to reassert the capacity of his office to do the same.

TIME global health

Global Youth Population Swells to Record 1.8 Billion

INDIA-EDUCATION-STUDY
Indian students prepare for competitive exams in an open space of the City Central Library in Hyderabad on February 7, 2014. NOAH SEELAM—AFP/Getty Images

The challenges are most acute for less developed countries, where 89% of the world's young people reside.

A swell in the global population of young people has the potential to transform economies for better or worse, depending on the decisions of today’s policy makers, according to a new United Nations report.

In a report released Tuesday, the UN Population Fund estimates that the global population of young people between the ages of 10 and 24 has hit 1.8 billion, a historic high.

“Never again is there likely to be such potential for economic and social progress,” the report states. But the authors warn that this demographic surge could also have the potential to destabilize nations unless young people can secure access to health services, education and jobs.

The challenges are most acute for less developed countries, where nearly 9 out of 10 of the world’s young people reside. India alone has a youth population of 356 million. The report’s authors called on governments and donors to invest in this population’s education, employment and health, particularly sexual and reproductive health.

“International support can unlock the potential of the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, change agents and leaders,” write the report’s authors.

TIME Health Care

How Prioritizing Women’s Health Can Lift Countries Out of Poverty

Countries can tap the potential of the world's historic number of youth and adolescents

There are currently 1.8 billion young people between ages 10 and 14, and about 600 million are adolescent girls. Their needs, if addressed, could help countries achieve rapid economic growth, according to a new report from the UN Population Fund.

The global community has never before been home to so many youth, and therefore so much untapped potential, the study says.

It’s possible to turn all that womanpower into prosperity. When it comes to international development, a country can experience accelerated growth during a period if its working-age population grows larger than its non-working age population, typically because fertility and mortality rates have dropped. This allows the country to become a more profitable society, a benefit called the “demographic dividend.” Given the high number of youth and adolescents today, the UN report says several countries are poised for this transition if they can ensure that their young people actually make it into the workforce.

Several factors can contribute to this transition, like increasing living standards and creating transparent regulatory environments, but one of the greatest factors cited by the UN report is if a country significantly prioritizes and invests in women’s health, including sexual health.

MORE: Why It Takes Teens Equipped With Condoms to Encourage Family Planning in Africa

As the report points out, about one in every three girls will be married by the time she turns 18—every day, 39,000 girls become child brides—and an estimated 33 million young women between ages 15 and 24 say they would use contraceptives if they had access to them. Unfortunately, contraceptive use among adolescent females is only 22%, due to limited availability. In many developing countries, once a woman is married off and starts having children, it’s often too difficult for her to enter the workforce, especially if she was married at a very young age and did not finish school. Getting pregnant at a young age also increases the risk of a dangerous pregnancy, once again raising the mortality rates for mothers and children.

“Child marriage, because it usually results in early pregnancy, is linked to deaths from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and married girls are more likely than married women to suffer violence and other abuse at the hands of their husbands,” says the report.

The UN says that some of the most successful ways to make sure women are safe and can enter the workforce are to enforce their reproductive rights via family planning initiatives, to stop child marriage, prevent adolescent pregnancies, stop sexual and gender-based violence and expand access to education. If women can enter the workforce, they can contribute to their local economies.

Family planning programs not only empower women to determine their life’s trajectory, but they mean big payoffs for a country’s workforce and economy—something many countries still need to embrace.

TIME poverty

Study: 1 in 30 U.S. Kids Were Homeless During 2013

Study authors say nearly 2.5 million American children experienced homelessness last year

The number of homeless children in the United States surged by 8% in 2013 to nearly 2.5 million, according to a new study that attributes the record-breaking figure to a shortage of affordable housing and the lingering effects of a jobless economic recovery.

The report published Monday by the National Center on Family Homelessness combined the U.S. Department of Education’s existing estimate of homelessness among school-age children, 1.5 million, with independent tallies for younger children not yet at school. The revised total suggests that one in every 30 children in the U.S. experienced homelessness in 2013.

The study authors attribute the elevated rates of homelessness to a sluggish economic recovery, compounded by a housing market that has priced out unemployed and low income families. California, in particular, was hard hit with 527,000 homeless children, accounting for one-fifth of the national total.

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