Home of an Italian Ragpicker by Jacob Riis (1888)

The photograph titled “Home of an Italian Ragpicker,” taken by Jacob Riis in 1888, captures a slice of life from the tenement living conditions experienced by immigrant populations in New York City in the late 19th century. The image offers a stark insight into the domestic space and circumstances of individuals who collected and sold scrap materials for a living.

In the black and white photograph, we observe a dimly lit interior that appears to be cramped and modestly furnished. A person is seated on a wooden chair, looking directly at the camera with a neutral expression. This individual is surrounded by large bags or sacks, which are presumably full of collected rags or other materials that pertain to their occupation as a ragpicker. The room contains minimal furnishings, aside from a few items like buckets and what seems to be a large pot, hinting at the meager lifestyle and the challenging conditions these workers faced. The walls and floor are bare, and a sense of wear and practical use is evident in the space. This image is historically significant as it communicates the social realities of the period through Riis’s documentary photography, portraying the living conditions of the urban poor during a transformative era in American history.

Other Photographs from Jacob Riis

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