Images show truth about poverty on P.E.I.

Our Reality exhibit at the Confederation Centre focuses on poverty from the view of the people living it

Mary MacKay comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 20, 2014

Sandy Kowalik, left, who was one of the facilitators for the Our Reality Living in Poverty on P.E.I.: A Photo Exhibit project, and participant photographers Thelma McCarthy of Charlottetown and Regina Younker of Cornwall are shown in the Confederation Centre of the Arts Concourse area, which will be the site of the official launch of the show today, 7-9 p.m. The show will remain in place until Thursday, March 27.

©GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY

The true face of poverty is the focus of Our Reality Living in Poverty on P.E.I.: A Photo Exhibit.

Rich in visual images, this photo series, combined with minimal text, helps give voice to the reality that many people live every day on P.E.I.

“It sort of brings it home, right? We’re not just talking about it now; it’s actual hey! smack-you-in-the-face kinds of images,” says Regina Younker of Cornwall, who was one of the amateur photographers on the project, which was supported by Women’s Network P.E.I. (WNPEI) and the City of Charlottetown.

The official launch of the show takes place today, 7-9 p.m., at the Confederation Centre of the Arts Concourse area.

To view more of the images in the show, click here.

The photo exhibit is part of a bigger three-year WNPEI project, Paths to Prosperity: A Community Response to Poverty, which was funded by Status of Women Canada. The goal of this project, which Younker and Thelma McCarthy of Charlottetown and numerous others have been involved since November 2012, was to get people in communities talking about poverty and how together Islanders can make the lives of others better.

“When you’re on a low income or (a restricted) amount of income, you know the struggles to make ends meet. It was time that some voices be heard. So when this opportunity arose, I just had a real heart and a real passion for change, to try to do things that will (foster) some change,” Younker says.

“I realized that I’m not the only one; you’re not the only one. We’re all the same, but we’re different (in individual situations).”

Community consultations were held in communities across the Island between April and June of 2013 and talked to people.

One particularly powerful moment for Younker during those roundtable sessions occurred in Souris.

“One of the three questions was if you were king or queen for the day what would you want to see different. And I’ll never forget this, one older lady in my group said, ‘In 10 years I’ll be dead and we won’t have a community anymore.’ They don’t have hope because of income and unemployment and so on. That stuck with me.”

“Then we went up west and it was the same kind of responses . . . . So it’s time for a change.”

The photo exhibit really changed things up.

“It sort of was sparked by the housing summit in Charlottetown in December. (Thelma) had gone around and taken some photos of friends’ housing and her own housing, and we blew them up just to show people,” says Sandy Kowalik, who was one of the facilitators for Our Reality: Living in Poverty on P.E.I. Exhibit project.

“Because you can talk about substandard conditions sometimes, but when you actually see the pictures it was a lot more profound.”

That spawned the idea of Our Reality Living in Poverty on P.E.I.: A Photo Exhibit.

All of the women involved took part in an eight-week community engagement skills building program.

The exhibit, which tapped into the Photovoice method that often combines photography with grassroots social action, was the final aspect of that training.

It included basic instruction in photography, composition and design before they ventured out to capture images of their world.

“I found that I became really thought-provoking on what I wanted to take. I wanted to make sure it was something that would really speak. I’ll be honest I had a hard time trying to come to grips with what I really wanted to show,” Younker says.

“I took a picture of some loose coin on the kitchen table. I was doing a write-up about it (and thought) I think we need a time for change. How metaphoric, right? It just signifies me growing up in generational poverty. I grew up in it and I’m living it now, and hopefully we change that for the next generation.”

Other topics that the women focused on were food security, mental illness, health issues, homelessness and, in McCarthy’s case, housing.

“Everybody’s doing part of poverty and what they want to (bring to light) — what sticks out for them,” she says.

Each participant has at least three images in the show that have been mounted and will be on display in the Confederation Centre Concourse until Thursday, March 27.

Other photos have been compiled into a slide show that will be projected at the opening reception tonight.

“As you are going through, as I was last night, oh my gosh the images are just amazing,” Kowalik says. “They did a fantastic job of just capturing their world and what was going on.”