We’ve been growing up alongside Austin for 90 years – and what it means to struggle financially has changed drastically in that time. To tell that story, we teamed up with local creative forces Alex Hannaford, journalist, and Matt Rainwaters, photographer, to create “Struggle: The Other Faces of the Texas Economic Miracle” – a zine showcasing our friends and neighbors who challenge the expected narrative around the working poor.
What made you interested in this project?
“These are the people who work full-time, often two jobs, to put food on the table and pay their bills, but who still find themselves unable to sustain this.”
Alex Hannaford, journalist
Alex: I’ve written a fair bit about the marginalized in society – and so this was a natural fit. I also thought it was interesting that this project didn’t focus on the poorest members of society, but the ‘working poor’ – a segment of the population that is largely ignored. These are the people who work full-time, often two jobs, to put food on the table and pay their bills, but who still find themselves unable to sustain this.
Matt: I was also interested in telling the story of the ‘working poor.’ Having just recently learned the joy of fatherhood, I also confronted the high cost of child care, how that affects your quality of life and so on – there was definitely an element of sympathy there. It also interested me because these are stories we don’t hear about poverty – the part that falls through the cracks, the unseen element. I wanted to make it visible.
As you were working to tell this story, what was your goal – what did you hope viewers would take away?
Alex: I wanted to mix statistics (like the fact there are 10.4 million people in America who constitute the “working poor” — people who spend at least 27 weeks a year in the labor force but whose incomes still fall below the official poverty level) and interviews with people who fit this bracket. Their voices really bring those statistics home.
Matt: I wanted to show the humanity in everyone – I was really mindful to not be objectifying people or holding them up to sort of be gawked at, which I think happens sometimes. I really wanted to create sympathy and show that the faces of the working poor aren’t that different, there’s a lot of similarities to me and you and everyone in these portraits.
What did you learn through this process?
Alex: I think the ‘take home’ from the project was that there are an awful lot of people who constitute the ‘working poor’ – and you probably know some of them. Something’s wrong if you’re working every hour imaginable and yet are still struggling. We just wanted to shine some light on this.
Matt: I was really moved by being able to work with my creative community to better our community overall – it really worked out to be about bringing people together, doing work we’re proud of and telling an important story.
What was most surprising to you?
Alex: I think that these are not people on the margins of society – people are struggling everywhere.
Matt: This really brought it home for me that we are all one disaster away from struggle – it’s not as far or as different as you might wish it was.
“Struggle: The Other Faces of the Texas Economic Miracle” is on sale now.
About the artists:
Alex Hannaford has been a journalist for 17 years, starting out with a local newspaper in the UK and then shifting to long-form features in 2000. He’s written about the death penalty, crime,religion, culture and human interest issues for publications including the Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times magazines, The Guardian, GQ, Esquire, The Atlantic and the Texas Observer.
Matt Rainwaters started filming friends skateboarding as a teenager. When they graduated to punk bands, Matt moved to still photography and, after studying photography in college, taught the subject as a high school teacher. Since starting a professional career, Matt has done work for The Atlantic, the London Telegraph, The New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, Newsweek, Nike, Texas Monthly and the Wall St. Journal, among others.