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Al Clayton: Chronicler of America's Poor and Hungry

In the summer of 1967, photographer Al Clayton traveled through the Mississippi Delta, eastern Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama, and documented the lives of America's poor and hungry.

Trained as a medical photographer and photojournalist, Clayton was asked by the Southern Regional Council, a civil rights group, to take part in their effort to provide Congress with evidence of malnutrition among the poor in America's South.

Al Clayton's Sensitive Camera

Sen. Edward Kennedy credited Al Clayton's "sensitive camera" with allowing senators to see the true conditions of the poor in America. Al Clayton hide caption

toggle caption Al Clayton

In His Own Words

Photographer Al Clayton.
Sharon Nardo

An Extended Conversation with Al Clayton

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In July 1967, his photographs were presented at a hearing on Capitol Hill, where they inspired senators to call for increased funding for anti-poverty programs such as food stamps.

Two years later, the photos were collected in a book called Still Hungry in America, with text by the eminent psychiatrist Robert Coles.

Today, Clayton is retired and lives in Jasper, Ga. He talks with Michele Norris about chronicling America's forgotten citizens. Excerpts from the interview — and examples of the photos he discusses — are below.

Tarpaper Shack
Al Clayton

On why he photographed so many children and the way they stared right at him:

Cover
Al Clayton

'The face of a hungry child or their demeanor just really prints on me. It's unforgettable.'

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NPR's Alison MacAdam contributed to this report.

On why so many people he photographed had severe burns:

Burns
Al Clayton

'The children would wear a lot of clothes and still the house is cold. And they would get closer and closer to the heat source.'

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On how he would decide what to photograph:

Smoke in Room
Al Clayton

'It's what hit me first when I would walk in, the thing that got my attention first, and then what got it next and then keep going in that way.'

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On the rough textures in his photographs:

Leaves
Al Clayton

'Textures in their homes were very heavy. It was layer after layer of newspaper, wallpaper, tar paper to keep the wind out.'

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