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Eerie Photos Of The Financial Crisis, Six Years After The Collapse

From abandoned multi-million-dollar mansions to symbolic empty trading room floors, these pictures capture the causes and effects of the meltdown.

Just as Lehman Brothers collapsed and the economy was imploding in 2008, German photographers Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann moved to Chicago. The foreclosed homes they saw all over the city inspired their next project.

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Their photographs of the financial crisis started with vacant houses and led to empty trading room floors. The series showcases multi-million-dollar mansions and rundown houses in the poorest neighborhoods. “These images show the remnants and residues of abandoned domestic interiors,” say Geissler and Sann. “We wanted to show how something very familiar can turn into something utterly strange.”

volatile smile, high-frequency trading workspace, # 14, 2010

The project expanded to look at the causes behind the crisis–especially the inner working of the financial companies whose unending appetite for subprime mortgages led banks to give out riskier and riskier loans.

“This work is about repercussions and feedback systems between material and digital reality in the financial industry, and how it ricochets into all directions of life,” the photographers explain.

Because of security, they weren’t allowed to take photos on the trading floor while anyone was at work. But Geissler and Sann found the blank screens and empty rooms just as interesting. In one way, they’re a symbol of how little most people understand the financial system around us. They might also be a symbol of what’s to come–will we eventually need traders at all, if algorithms handle every trade?

Chicago Board of Trade, b, 2013

The first time the photographers set foot on an active trading floor, they were immediately reminded of a project from the past: They had once photographed a series of people playing video games at the moment they killed an enemy. The same tension, and the same disconnect from consequence was in the room–along with similar people, because many financial firms tend to hire gamers.


“The gamers are yet another entangled relation to the history of computer technology, as the games symbolize the rite of passage of a generation of mainly white, male humans growing up during the beginnings of the cybernetic paradigm,” the photographers say.

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The three photo series–the vacant houses, trading floors, and scary-looking gamers–are collected in a new book called Volatile Smile from Artbook, out next month.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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