Jacob Riis, immigrated to the United States in 1870 and was a pioneer in the use of photography as an agent of social reform. This photo depicts the deplorable conditions of the slum in New York during the 19th century. What you are looking at is sleeping quarters by the Rivington Street dump. The tattered beds in the background look like they are made for small children, which would mean that the grown men that sleep on them would be cramped. The tiny living quarter is obviously shared between more than one person and so the space would be cramped as it is but to make it worse the roof is feet away from the ground. The men would be cluttered. The men do not have many ways to entertain themselves in the small quarters, so they resort to smoking and sitting on the roof. The man’s clothes are filthy. He probably has no other alternative suites of clothes. The facial expression shows that the man is obviously not happy; he looks like the only happiness he has in the pipe he has in his mouth. Also, it seems to be that there are no light structures in the space, so the light went out when the sun went down which adds to the already depressive atmosphere. The drum in the centre of the room is the only table structure they have so they seem to conserve space by trying to hang things like the kettle from the roof and some other things in the background in the peak of the roof. I have no doubt the walls are not made of a heat sustainable material, so in the winter it would be terribly cold. The presence of rodents and insects are inevitable, which adds to what I assume is already a terrible smell and immense amounts of filth. This picture is a true representation of the conditions that lower class people had to deal with in 19th century New York.
@Mrs. G (Credit)