Brittany M. Powell, a photographer and filmmaker, filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after several years of unemployment. But that didn’t discourage her from her art. Powell’s struggles inspired her to explore the common but “invisible” experience of debt in post-recession America. The Debt Project started as a series of portraits of people in debt sitting in their homes, “surrounded by their belongings.” Powell asked each subject to write a “debt story,” with their name, age, job and an explanation of how they got to where they are. The stories and photos are heartbreaking, portraying debt as an insidious institution that can dramatically affect people with diverse histories, from a hair stylist with $12,324 in debt to an architectural designer in debt by $160,000.
With her project, Powell plans to photograph and record 99 people across the country and from a variety of backgrounds, attempting to nudge viewers toward a less stigmatized view of debt. “A lot has surprised me, but most of all I think it was how many people really do blame themselves before blaming the system,” Powell said in an interview with Feature Shoot. “We don’t really share publicly, but we privately experience a lot of the same things,” she says in the film clip on her Kickstarter page, which is about $6,000 away from funding with eight days to go. The portraits, along with her subjects’ debt stories, film and audio interviews will be shown at her MFA thesis exhibit next April at San Francisco State University. After that, she hopes to take the exhibit on the road and turn the Debt Project into a book.