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Correction appended Nov. 18, 2011: A previous version of a caption in this slideshow incorrectly stated that a house had toxic drywall. TIME regrets the error.

In 2010, more Americans lived below the poverty line than at any time since 1959, when the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting this data. Last January, TIME commissioned photographer Joakim Eskildsen to capture the growing crisis, which now affects nearly 46.2 million Americans. Traveling to New York, California, Louisiana, South Dakota and Georgia over seven months, Eskildsen’s photographs of the many types of people who face poverty appear in the new issue of TIME. Eskildsen, who last visited America in 1986, says the poverty crisis was a side of the country he’d rarely seen in the media in Berlin, where he is based. “For Europeans living outside of America, it’s a mythical place because we’re breastfed with all those images of Coca-Cola and American culture,” Eskildsen says. “It was very heartbreaking to see all kinds of people facing poverty because many of these people were not only economically poor, but living in unhealthy conditions overall.”

Eskildsen was also surprised by how pervasive poverty is in America. “Once you start digging, you realize people in poverty are everywhere, and you can really go through your life without seeing them before you yourself are standing in the food stamp line,” he says. “So many people spoke about the disappointment of the American Dream—this, they said, was the American Reality.” In the accompanying magazine story, Barbara Kiviat argues that “there is no single archetype of America’s poor,” and that “understanding what poverty is in reality—and not in myth—is crucial” to efforts to erase the situation. Perhaps equally as crucial is the effort to put a face to the statistic, which Eskildsen has done here in haunting detail.

Joakim Eskildsen is a Danish photographer based in Berlin. He is best known for his book The Roma Journeys (Steidl, 2007). More of his work can be seen here

The project was done in collaboration with Natasha Del Toro, reporter for TIME.

Feifei Sun is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @Feifei_Sun or on Facebook.

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The stereotype is as old as the Spartans. Those ancient, dichotomy loving Greeks had gender-specific definitions for heroism: men who fell in battle and women who died in childbirth. Epics sang of arms and the man—not arms and the woman. The roles have been so ingrained century after century that, despite the inclusiveness of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (“…the right of the people to keep and bear arms”), guns are still primarily perceived as a male purview. The photographer Lindsay McCrum plays on this preconception in her recently published collection Chicks with Guns, a playful yet perturbing visual essay on the statistic that some 20 million women in America own guns. The subjects of the book, published by The Vendome Press, range from girls to women of a certain age, from hunters to police officers to biathletes to the wheelchair-bound; they are dressed in fatigues, ballgowns, fur, frills, jeans and t-shirts, wielding everything from an antique dueling pistol to Beretta hunting rifles to Glocks to an AR-15 semi-automatic. McCrum has played with the dynamics of similar disjunctions in the past, for example, photographing young girls wearing their favorite dresses chosen from their mother’s wardrobes; but that involved the imagination and fantasy. With Chicks with Guns she deals in realities as tangible as gun barrels, in a tableau that stretches across America—one where the gender-divide itself proves to be imaginary.

Chicks with Guns was recently published by the The Vendome Press.

Howard Chua-Eoan is the News Director of TIME and TIME.com. Find him on Twitter at @hchuaeoan.

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