We Sold A Winner

In 2015, Americans spent over $71 billion hoping to become the next millionaire. Forty-four states rely on lottery revenue to support community-wide services, though most citizens pay little attention to the places or people whose hard work and neighborhood camaraderie play an essential role in this money stream. Many are even openly derisive. I follow winning jackpots ($1million to $415 million), back to the small mom and pop stores where the ticket was sold. After selling a winner, neighborhood shops acquire a lucky aura. Word quickly spreads with merchants, clerks and customers talking about what “I would do with that money”. 

Owners and clerks present a diverse portrait. Some are immigrants, making their way in a foreign land, while others are the second or third generation to live and work in the neighborhood. They are the unsung small business entrepreneurs perfecting a hometown art of banter and fellowship, the backbone of customer loyalty. Regulars come for counsel, conversation and the comfort that accompanies familiarity. Many of these stores remind me of my grandparents, the first generation of my family who crossed the ocean to start anew as shopkeepers and in bakeries.

Like a 19th century plein air painter, I am keenly aware of how light and color shape space. I photograph the stores wrapped in the glow of twilight or dawn to encourage a closer look at these overlooked places and to evoke empathy for the resilient people caught in the wake of a jackpot most say would “solve all their problems”. This project presents a unique look at the increasing economic inequality at the root of our divided country.

Despite hard work and often multiple jobs, financial security is increasingly elusive for many families across America. Since 2010, I have been photographing a diverse cross section of communities through the particular lens of state lotteries. I seek greater awareness and understanding for our dependency on a system where “the house always wins” and “you can’t win if you don’t play”.