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Photographer's Note by Kike Arnal - Introduction by Ralph Nader - Foreward by Fred Ritchin

By Fred Ritchin

Visions do not always beget vision.

The budget of the United States Government, located in Washington, D.C., is about three trillion dollars. The life expectancy of the people who live next door, right there in the nation’s capital, is 72, putting their prospects for longevity behind those of the people of some 120 countries—fifty places behind Mexico and fourteen behind the Gaza Strip.

Lofty pronouncements about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness hardly seem to resonate close by. (Whether they indeed resonate farther away is the subject of many other books.)

Photography, which can only be done close by, is said to make the invisible visible. The poverty, addiction, illnesses and homelessness that pervade Washington, D.C., are all highly visible but mostly ignored, rendered invisible.

Perhaps if Washington, D.C., was considered a foreign country the media would try harder to cover its denizens while suddenly realizing, as happened in New Orleans, that we do not know our own.

Kike Arnal, who is Venezuelan, decided to enter the shadows that rim glitzy press conferences and sought-after soirées, amazed that so many lives were festering away within a few minute’s walk of transcendent power. They reminded him of some of the barrios in his native country (Venezuela is eighteen places ahead of Washington, D.C., on the life expectancy list). These are contrasts that are not supposed to exist here, or anywhere, but certainly not at a superpower’s core.

Washington, as a place of visions, now can add In the Shadow of Power.

In shades of gray the murkiness is probed, fragments of anguish exposed, painful contrasts fractionally illuminated.

In the mid-1950s, during the Eisenhower years, it took another foreigner, a Swiss, to make one of the most revelatory photographic books about this country. Robert Frank’s The Americans illuminated issues of race and class that many denizens had refused to see. The book, now considered a classic, was almost universally panned here when it first came out.

Maybe in this era of promised change Arnal’s photographs will mobilize people and institutions to act locally, even in a globalized world. Certainly they should make every tourist, American or foreign, see the Capitol’s glory tempered with an underlay of desperation, and ask how a government can expect to lead a planet if it cannot properly help take care of its own.

I was born in Washington, D.C., and left as a very young child. I never had any strong feelings about my birthplace. Now I do.