WATCH ME GROW: America's Unequal Childhoods
Since 2009, we have been documenting the exteriors of childcare centers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The colorful hand-painted graphics and advertised messages on these storefronts are an amalgam of information, academic aspiration, incentives, Christian ethos and pop culture iconography. There is, however, a disparity between the aspirational promises of child care centers and the enormous barriers working families face in obtaining quality, affordable care for their children. We could not ignore that these facilities represent the unintended consequences of complex social issues and policies surrounding how we care for our children.
In response, we constructed and photographed allegorical scenes addressing these barriers. We found inspiration in art historical traditions of 19th century sublime landscape painting and apocalyptic film, which, through the depiction of terrifying forces, expose vulnerability and precarious existence. The titles of the photographs are taken from signage found on child care centers and call attention to the chasm between good intentions and thwarted realities.
Watch Me Grow seeks to render the gap between how poor and wealthy families are able to serve and care for their children. It is also about how businesses that cater to children, from some child care facilities, to manufacturers, to advertisers, gloss over, manipulate and deform the truth about these unequal childhoods. As a nation, we are in denial about the obstacles facing working families and the lack of resources committed to caregiving. Instead, we consume a set of timeworn myths about childhood itself to calm our nerves.
This project is supported by the non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project that produces journalism about inequality.
As we work through this project, we are posting in our NOTEBOOK - WATCH ME GROW. We invite you to visit and welcome your comments there.