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American History II A Reflection on "How the Other Half Lives" by the Other Half The author of "How the Other Half Lives", Jacob Riis, inscribes on the deplorable living conditions of the Progressive Era from a first-person perspective.Riis, an immigrant, police reporter, photojournalist and most importantly: a pioneer and social reformer, tells a very captivating yet appalling experience of the lower class life in New York City beginning in the 19th century.From 1869 to 1890 tenement housing almost tripled to over 37,000 tenements in use.(p204 Riis) Houses and blocks were turned into barracks, giving a whole new meaning to overcrowding, and the expense unjust compared to living conditions.
Accompanying Riis’s words were detailed line drawings and halftones of his most compelling photographs (one of the first extensive uses of halftone photography in a book).
was an immediate success, and Riis was applauded for his bold assertion that addressing urban poverty was both a social and moral imperative.
This unorthodox technique—designed to capture subjects at their most raw—was one of the first instances of casual photography.
Due to the limitations of print technology, line drawings of Riis’s photographs were published next to his articles rather than the photographs themselves.
After getting a job with the, Riis began to photograph life in the slums using innovative flash technology to better capture the dim tenements and the nighttime streets.
Rather than having his subjects pose, Riis often ran up to them and quickly took a photo before running away.Theories such as social Darwinism and Carnegie’s “The Gospel of Wealth” helped promote the belief that the poor were only poor because they were too lazy, weak, or immoral to rise up in society.In contrast, Jacob Riis saw the slums as a cause of poverty rather than a symptom.As a police reporter, Riis frequently journeyed to the most dangerous neighborhoods in New York City.It was during this time that Riis met and befriended police commissioner and future president Theodore Roosevelt.Riis mostly attributed the plight of the poor to environmental conditions, but he also divided the poor into two categories: deserving of assistance (mostly women and children) and undeserving (mostly the unemployed and intractably criminal).He wrote with prejudice about Jews, Italians, and Irish, and he stopped short of calling for government intervention.Still, the catalyst of his work was a genuine sympathy for his subjects, and his work shocked many New Yorkers.In 1870, penniless and alone, Jacob Riis immigrated to the United States from Denmark.After publishing numerous articles describing his findings, Riis realized that sensationalist prose had a limited effect on his otherwise oblivious audience; indeed, some of Riis’s readers felt that he must be exaggerating the conditions in the tenements.It was then that Riis started to experiment with photography, hypothesizing that the misery of the poor might be better conveyed through images.