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Time Magazine Instagram Photographer of 2014 puts lens on impoverished California region

time magazine instagram photographer  puts lens impoverished california region matt black

Photographer Matt Black uses Instagram for his project, "The Geography of Poverty," which highlights the plight of people living in California's Central Valley. He was recognized by Time Magazine as its Instagram Photographer of the Year 2014. (Credit: Matt Black)

Instagram isn’t just about selfies and celebrities. It is a legitimate venue for photography, too. Time Magazine has started recognizing Instagram photographers who have been using the photo sharing site as a powerful medium to display their work. And for 2014 the publication named documentary photographer Matt Black as its Instagram Photographer of the Year for his work documenting the poverty in California’s Central Valley.

Black joined Instagram in December 2013 for an easy place to showcase his work, which depicts the grisly conditions of California’s agricultural region. Farmers there are facing one of the most severe droughts in California history, and the region is also one of the poorest in the nation. Black grew up in the Central Valley, and told Time that it is “this kind of vast unknown zone” that rarely gets attention. He had ambitions of permanently leaving where he grew up to pursue a photography career, but he had something to say about the conditions of his home; he realized he could do both.

His work, “Geography Of Poverty,” can be seen on his Instagram feed and standalone website. The photos are in black and white, and mostly depict buildings and items that are rundown or falling apart, with some portraits of residents – dead animal bones or a homeless man washing his face, for example.

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The photographer explained to Time that there is only one reason he is on Instagram: the mapping function. You can geotag your pictures on Instagram using coordinates, which adds realism to his project. Users can see the abysmal conditions in the photograph, then actually locate where these abysmal conditions are in relation to them. He also appreciates the ability to comment on his pictures, saying that doing long-form projects were too restricting in telling the story. With comments and responses to his pictures, he can react and correct.

Black uses a mixture of his iPhone and a Sony Cyber-shot RX100 camera to take pictures. He admits that some might call him out for using something other than his smartphone, but explained that he made sure to be upfront since the beginning, hoping that “if you’re upfront about it, then you’re not cheating.”

Last year’s recipient, David Guttenfelder, was recognized for his photos of North Korea.