Every major tragedy of the previous decade, whether September 11, Katrina, or Abu Ghraib, has its own visual iconography, except one: the housing collapse. How do you visualize something that exists primarily on the bank statements and credit ratings deep within the paper trail of financial institutions?
Douglas Smith’s recent portfolio of foreclosed homes begins to rectify the situation. By approaching realtors in person and over the phone, he got permission to visit properties in and around the Northern San Joaquin Valley cities like Stockton and Modesto. Using almost exclusively natural light and as few digital manipulations as possible, Smith’s photos are elegies, focusing on interior scenes and the detritus of a consumer society. “The sense of tragedy was something I felt for our country as well as the people specifically involved,” he tells Co.Design. Along the way, Smith manages to captures some classic Americana: a cheap blue rosary stuck on a vent, a trampoline with the padding hanging off the edges, an AK-47 box near the door of an otherwise empty room, the paradox of material affluence mixed with the loss of one’s home.
Not surprisingly, Smith suggests that the housing collapse’s missing visual iconography is a political failure, saying agencies during our first Great Depression, like the Farm Service Agency or the Works Progress Administration, hired photographers and artists to portray and document the problem: “We have a plurality of points of view and sources that seem to be distracting enough to prevent strong action by our public and legislatures.” And like those great photographs from the Great Depression, Smith’s images sometimes veer toward the sentimental side, but only as a means to reinforce the human toll without using a single human face.
See the complete portfolio here.
All images courtesy of Douglas Smith.