Are you confident you have enough money to buy food for yourself and your family this month? If the answer is no, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that in the U.S. more than 43 million people live in food-insecure homes. Joey O’Loughlin, a Brooklyn-based photojournalist, spent nearly three years working for Food Bank for New York City, a non-profit hunger relief organization, photographing food pantries all over the city, their staffs, and the clients who depend on their services. Her photos of people waiting hours to receive a bag of groceries are reminiscent of photos of bread lines in the 1930s, but the scenes are repeated daily in community centers, schools and houses of worship around the city. A selection of her images and video interviews are now on view at the Brooklyn Historical Society in a show titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: Portraits of Hunger in NYC.” She says she hopes that the exhibition prompts visitors to ask, “What would you do if you couldn’t feed your family?”
Several of the clients O’Loughlin met at food pantries invited her home, and she shows how they combine food pantry supplies with their own grocery purchases to make meals for their families. Caught between diminishing wages and the rising cost of living in New York City, many of O’Loughlin’s subjects count on food banks and feeding programs to make ends meet. Her images and extensive captions explain how much work is required to take advantage of food services. One sleepy four-year-old boy travels with his family every Saturday on a four-mile round trip to visit two food pantries in Queens. O’Loughlin writes, “They stand in line because things haven’t turned out as they planned, and a bag of food from a pantry is a soft spot in a hard time.” A small room of the exhibition includes video stations where visitors can listen to the clients tell their stories in their own words.
O’Loughlin has shot assignments for several social service organizations, both in the U.S. and abroad, and worked as a writer and producer. She has documented families who visit the Brooklyn Autism Center, and worked for the Brooklyn Public Library, documenting its readers and visitors for an exhibition she produced titled “Where the Books Go.” That exhibition caught the attention of Food Bank for NYC, who wanted O’Loughlin to do a similar project about food pantries. Her archive of images grew, and formed the basis for the exhibition at the Brooklyn Historical Society. About “Hidden in Plain Sight,” O’Loughlin says, “The photos in this exhibit are meant to foster connections between the people standing on the lines and the people who walk by them, unaware.” To support that effort, Brooklyn Historical Society is organizing public programming and panels on poverty and hunger while the exhibition is on display throughout the coming election year.