Taking a Look at Debt in America with Photographer Brittany Powell

In this blog, we get a fresh perspective on how debt affects Americans and how feelings of helplessness during economic hardships can be overcome.

Next week we’ll launch
The Debt Project. The minute we received debut author Brittany Powell’s proposal in Spring of last year, we knew we wanted to publish this honest and unflinching look at the economic reality for most Americans today. And it’s now more relevant than ever—especially in this challenging time of COVID-19 unemployment and quickly rising debt.

In the book, 99 portraits feature people of diverse backgrounds across the United States, examining the social and personal hold financial debt has on us, while also empowering people to share their stories and overcome shame they may feel.

We asked Brittany what inspired her to create the book:

In 2012, after struggling with a significant loss of income from my photography business following the 2008 economic decline, my debt had skyrocketed, and I made the difficult decision to file for bankruptcy. Inspired by this experience, I began the Debt Project as a way to open the conversation about debt, and remove some of the stigma it carries.

Debt is publicly enforced and highly stigmatized, but is almost always privately experienced. It is in many ways an abstract form without material weight or structure, yet with heavy physicality and burden in a person’s everyday life.

My goal was to photograph across the US, in order to bring people together in a common community to re-contextualize an abstract, often shamed experience. It is my hope that by having a platform to discuss this issue, it will encourage the viewer and participants to question and reframe our perception of Debt and how we contribute to its power and role in our social structure.

Brittany Powell

In addition to moving stories and portraits that impart a sense of empathy and community, Brittany has included helpful resources like these:

The Debt Collective (https://debtcollective.org/) leverages collective power by offering debtors a shared platform for direct action.

The New Economy Project (https://www.neweconomynyc.org) works with community groups to build a new economy that works for all, based on principles of cooperation, democracy, equity, racial justice, and ecological sustainability.

Want to learn more? Please join us with Third Place Books, our official launch partner, on October 29 at 7p EST for a provocative conversation on Zoom, “Where do we go from here? Debt in America,” with:

  • Brittany Powell, Author/Photographer of The Debt Project
  • Alissa Quart, Author and Executive Director Economic Hardship Reporting Project
  • Bayete´ Ross Smith, Artist, Presidential Leadership Scholar, TED resident and subject in The Debt Project

Watch our Facebook events page for more information on how to join.

The Debt Project

A moving, humanitarian exposé on the isolation and despair of financial hardship. –Kirkus Reviews