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Looking Out/looking in

Two winters ago, I was involved in a project called "Looking Out/Looking In", Women, Poverty, and Public Policy. This photovoice exhibit offered me and nine other women living in poverty, the opportunity to express ourselves through photographs and words--to portray our negative and positive viewpoints and feelings about what living in poverty is like for each of us.

"A vision-impaired person taking photographs?" you say. Yes, indeed.

Although I have enough sight to point the camera and take pictures, I have no doubt that someone without any sight could also have participated in the project, as did one of the women who did not have use of her hands.

Women involved with the project were from a variety of backgrounds and included women who were: single, Aboriginal, mothers, disabled, wives etc.

A couple of goals of the project were to hopefully bust some of the negative stereotypes that society has about poor people. Some of the people we were hoping to influence with our photos were the front line workers of service agencies, as well as the commercial and business sector. We also wanted to influence the policy makers to change policies around the issues affecting the lives of women and their families who live in poverty.

All that aside, I as a vision-impaired person found it to be a unique challenge and opportunity to not only express myself verbally on something deeply personal, but also to express myself through a visual medium.

Each woman was given a disposable camera for a couple of months and asked to take pictures of what was meaningful to her. I found that I was more inclined to express my feelings and thoughts about the economics of my life, rather than the vision-impaired angle. I guess that makes sense, since the overlying theme was poverty.

One cannot help wondering how being a person with a disability, and specifically a vision disability, played into my perspectives, and into my being involved in a project on poverty in the first place. This project also reinforced the fact that lack of eyesight is not all of who I am, and surprisingly--yet fortunately--being poor for over four decades is not all of who I am either.

Since the exhibit was put together, we continue to show it publicly at conferences, churches, organizations etc. I hope you will appreciate a few of my photos and the messages that I am trying to convey.

Photo: A dark gray cat with white chest and face sitting upright facing forward with one paw slightly raised

Captions: Suicide Prevention

I live alone and often suffer from depression and yet I am not allowed enough money to feed and care for my ?antidepressant.' If I commit suicide, who will take care of her?

Photo: The a full length silloette of a woman in dark clothes with her face covered. She is wearing her bra and panties on the outside of her clothing.

Caption: Walking Around In My Underwear As a person who has had to rely on social programs most of my life, I feel like public property. I have very little privacy and freedom to control myown affairs and create my own identity. I also don't get to participate equally in my community.

Photo: A pair of women's low healed dark dress sandals

Caption: Comfortable Shoes/Scared For My Life If I want to go out at night, I walk. Most people do not want their mother/daughter/sister/wife walking in the streets after dark, but it is okay for a partially sighted woman in poverty.

Photo: An empty coffee cup lying on it's side

Caption: My Cup Doth Not Runneth Over/I Have Nothing to Offer

I get the impression that society thinks that I have nothing to offer and it turns out that is true. I am so occupied using my energy surviving below the poverty line that I don't have anything extra to give.

Photo: A white push-button telephone

Caption: Waiting by the Phone

Surviving below the poverty line means being isolated from loved ones in good times and bad. I do not have any money to put toward long distance calls. I cannot reciprocate; I just get calls when other people feel like calling.

Photo: The view of a city skyline through some vertical and horizontal bars

Caption: Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

With the amount of freedom and privacy taken away from me by the welfare system, it is difficult for me to appreciate a beautiful day without feeling like I'm looking at it from behind the oppressive bars of the prison of poverty. In order to survive, I cheat a little from time to time and pay the price of feeling like a criminal.

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