The Poverty Line by Stefen Chow and Hui-Yi Lin

The Poverty Line is a collaboration between Stefen Chow and Hui-Yi Lin, which began in China in 2010 and has since expanded to 24 countries across 6 continents. The Poverty Line uses the universal lens of food to examine the choices you would face if you lived at the poverty line.

It’s not simply trying to compare poverty in different countries; the collaborators want to create a way to understand poverty within the context of a single country. By first calculating a per-person, per-day expenditure based on the country’s national poverty line, they produced a visual representation of everyday food items that would be accessible within that country for that amount of money.

Each picture denotes the food choice a person living at the poverty line would have in a single day at the particular country when the picture was taken. For developed countries, where there is a relatively up-to-date household consumption data available, they focused on the average daily amount that a person at the poverty line would spend on food.


For developing countries, they used the average daily amount that a person living at the poverty line earns/spends. The team has faced challenges in determining a method for calculating a figure that is accurate despite the varying systems in place in every country. This is indicative of the complexity surrounding designations of poverty in the assorted economies at work in both developed and developing countries across the globe.


The presentation is simple: items are skillfully arranged atop the full-page spread of a local newspaper. The text, photos, and advertisements of the newsprint remain partially visible and legible depending upon how much of a given item the daily rate allows. Captured directly from above, with clear and simple lighting, the resultant images provide a powerful and thought provoking visual time capsule for the myriad issues of contemporary society. Problems range from social/educational inequality, limited social services and poor nutrition to materialism and media sensationalism, among others.

Each nation’s poverty line is often influenced by socio-economic structure, political agendas and society perceptions. Looked at individually, these compelling images bring us face to face with the most basic questions those living at the poverty line deal with on a daily basis. Taken as a series, this broader purview allows us to begin to trace the connections and parallels between the circumstances of those living at the threshold of poverty, no matter where in the world they may be situated.

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