The Evolution of Foreclosed Dreams Part 1
So we're now going to go into we're heading down the home stretch both for today and also to start getting you to think about your own projects and the end of the segment is actually have you think about writing a project proposal I alluded to before your homework tonight let's go home and write a project proposals little making the other plants to get you to think about a project proposal I'm going to take you through the most recent project from a project that I did and talk about forming my or eventually your personal projects and photo essays and so I'm going to talk about on a project called foreclosed dreams and the only reason I chose this project is simply a function of digital technology which I have all this stuff I have the emails I have everything that I did along the way and I'm guessing it about the halfway point you're going to say why is he going to such detail and then at the end point you're going oh yeah that's what I'm hoping okay and I am going to go into a lot of ...
detail the project is called foreclosed dreams and memory talked early in the day about titling what is the title for clothes dreams tell you I'm not being flippant by the way just what does it tell you james don't touch that I mean they're going right there and it's being cut short by a foreclosure okay, and the american dream? I'm using kind of accepted language that we have in there to build a title that you immediately get. Okay, there's a lot of other ways that I could have titled it, but I didn't do that, and this took me a long time to get to it's, a big part of project proposal writing, all right, so let me take you through the background of this project. I worked with the photo agency in a portland, maine, called aurora photos, and they sent us all a note in early two thousand nine talking about the economic recession, depression, whatever you wanna call the thing that we're at the tail end of now, in two thousand nine, we were at the beginning ofthe and talk about, um, putting together a project where we would photograph it collectively as a photo agency, and I'm not going to make it read all this stuff, but they send out this this idea, suggesting that we all do some kind of collective thing among the photo agency members of photographers and what caught my eye as somebody who'd studied the history photography, which we talked about before, was a reference the farm security administration photos done by people like walker evans and russell leigh, and they were talking about the historical resonance of that depression and whatever this thing you want to call were going through and the idea is to do sort of a contemporary version of that and both as a photographer and justice somebody study history photography said yeah I like that I want to do something with that so um for a while it was called the farm security administration project within the agency for a while it was called the poverty project and he kept evolving among the photographers who agreed to participate and then they sent us a pdf about the project and then I wrote him a pitch back about what I wanted to do and much like I said before I started with one idea and here's a great surprise it changed completely so when I started to do was actually based on something that I saw in the new york times which is that the foreclosure crisis unfortunately at that point in the recession was picking up and in california was one of the epicenters of foreclosure crisis and so I initially actually sort of building one of this article started photographing the guys who clean up these houses and it was almost all guys who cleaning up to thousands and I started going out with his cleanup crews which would go to these foreclosed houses and literally pierre in get the stuff out of the houses clean them up and then eventually they would go back on the real estate market and so this is a time lapse animation of one of these cleanups that I was involved in actually in rhode island a little bit later, but it's, just a way of kind of showing the what this thing look like, and what I discovered was, thie guys were throwing, we're doing this stuff, they go through this really interesting emotional journey because they're actually picking through people's life it's a pretty difficult and unpleasant thing, but the reality is, I realize it was almost a video story because when they talk about what they're going through that's very interesting, but the photographs of them directly or guys moving stuff, but what caught my eye and this is that epiphany from what I aspired to do with what he ended up doing was the stuff that's left behind. And if you'll notice, this is the exact same place I mean, that's, the backyard there's the house, and there was this kid's toy I don't and kid's toy was really there. I don't set anything up we talked about before, and I had that that epiphany, that moment is saying it's, not about the guys it's about the stuff that's left behind, and so that was the beginning of when the project really started to come together, and so that idea of what you aspire to and how it changes I said this before but it's really true if your project doesn't change from when you started tow when you're finish it, you're not working hard enough and so that's kind of why I'm pushing back in use in the other bridges thing because I think that as we go through this conversation you work harder and harder there is something in there and so we have to keep teasing it out and it will change but that's a very organic process to go from what you thought it was going to be to what it really is so to continue on um I did that photography I discovered that it's about what I think of as this process of photographing the ghosts the houses were cleaned up houses are about to be cleaned up before they're cleaned up and back in the real estate market there's a very narrow time window when you can see what I think it was the ghost that people used to be in the house and so that became part of my pitch and so I actually made up this letter that I sent to anybody and this becomes a big part of your project everybody should know about what you're doing so I'd send it to sending it to friends I'm going to be in arizona in february teaching a class I need to get houses in arizona um I'm a classic multitasker I'm always going to be saying okay I'm doing this and doing that and I'm doing that how many different things can I get out of one trip? Um writing friends of friends a friend in arizona suggested I see somebody else somebody else sent me to somebody else all right perfect strangers all right anybody to say I need to get into these houses um during this time period ironically we sold our old house and eventually we bought a new house and so for a while I was in really good stead with my realty agents so she got me to some houses you kind of have to think this way on all your projects you have to start thinking okay? What are the other things that I'm trying to I want to make it more universal yearsas initially it's about your father but don't be surprised if in the future this starts becoming about other people's experience how you gonna access those people who knows who can help you? Okay, so it always becomes about this larger network that you have um I read a friend of the realtor seeking access through a community group that worked in distressed neighborhoods with foreclosures and the idea was that ideally the community group could help me get in um and then this is an email back from a friend of a friend who said, yeah, I'll help you we're making progress um this's a stranger somebody did know what the time but I ended up working with him helping me get into a house um another person is going to help me get into house and another person helped me going and I'm not trying to read that you get the idea all right anybody I'll ask anybody and you have to understand that you think about this if I call you up cold and say hey, I'm an art photographer I want to get inside those right nobody is going to do that but if I get in introduction it's the same thing as everything else in real life you know if you get introductions if you get networked into it people say yes so started photographing initially in the central valley of california this isn't a city calmer said with a half finished housing complex this is an unfinished housing complex and you may remember before I told you my sister lives in the central valley of california which is waiting the past the side project the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis when it first started picking up was the central valley of california so I'm actually going back to the same place and I have a place to say this sister is always very welcoming so I got a place to stay so all I need again back to what I did twenty years ago it's airfare I don't need film anymore and I need a rental car and it's just being there, I'm often times I'm one or two steps ahead of the guys who are doing the cleaning because they're coming through their job is to clean this place up and to get rid of this kind of stuff get rid of that kind of stuff. I don't know, because this was the tail end of this particular clean up, but I was assumed that a kid did this in the room before they left, right? That's my assumption near stockton, california, the place is don't matter, per se, but I'm slowly going through this process of so I figured out what his story that I want to tell I've got a name for it now I've got a pitch letter so I can get people to get me in. I'm starting to build on my family network, I'm doing this efficiently in terms of staying with my sister, those photographs also from stockton, the kid, the kid who lived in this house with some kind of karate champion and he had all these trophies, but he couldn't take them when he moved, and so he actually stripped a little plaques off the bottom, so it was one of those photos where you go, people say you set up your photographs, I'm not smart enough to carry around. Passive fire you know red, red and blue pacify and drop it on the floor in a house in los angeles so you know, I don't set up any my photographs in essentials still, mostly now I'm still working the central valley california I'm going to eventually reach seventeen states, but right now this early this two thousand nine, two thousand ten um now I'm actually working in san francisco and now I'm just starting a really, really important part of my process I'm starting to tell my students that I'm looking for places and one of my students says, oh yeah, I know a realtor michigan I'm sure he can help you, so I'm actually in michigan here at the b has to one of my suit and you need to start thinking about this idea member said clients next question is sort of what's your network it's much bigger than you think it is. So right about the time this is two thousand nine I've been working on this project for about five months and I see this website which is called social documentary dot net social documentary dot net is still alive and well, you should be looking at anyway it's just another one of those great resource is for photography, but they actually have a competition called documenting the global recession okay and the light bulb go off in my head okay and I say I'm going to enter that and so I actually I entered it and I created they have this thing you go in, you create a website, you post the links and then I won the people's choice award seventy five dollars and a people's choice award remember this idea of third party validation all these tools this is the first of many things that are going to spiral out of this one project that I've been doing for but this is december two thousand nine I started april two thousand is the very first step in what's going to become a large process of this third party validation again I'm not telling you because I'm great I'm smart I'm telling you because I'm really good at looking back and figuring out how I stumbled from a to b to c to d and I'm going to try to prevent you from stumbling so you could actually do it more intentionally so I got to the people's choice award and then people at international senator photography in new york city saw the social documentary dot net award and they asked me to contribute some stuff to there webpage called photo brigade and so now I'm starting to really pick up I'm photographing this is in providence, rhode island where I live this was one of the cleanest houses I've ever seen in my life anyway separate probably cleaner than my house um back in california you can't make this stuff up right and there's actually a trashed book in the backyard of a foreclosed house that says bad beginnings to happy endings and I don't know if that worked out actually for this family but and some of these houses especially in california I worked with some of the same people over and over people often ask how do you access the foreclosures there's three people who got me in one was that the people who clean them up the real state agents who deal with them as they're going through this foreclosure process and the investors who tend to buy them up in large numbers and manage them and so I worked with a number of people regularly one of the things I did was I would always send them pictures if they wanted pictures the inside of the house not not my pictures but their pictures is documentation a lot of times I would photograph another house for them in trade to get access because these people are businessmen it's a deal I'm happy to do that and a lot of times almost every shoot I would call them up at the end and say you know everything was fine but you won't want to go back to house a the door's been unlocked for six days and there's dogs pooping in there or something so I'm being a little sarcastic but it wasn't I was actually really helping them out giving them something of value so they would often times just give me a list and say go to this house go to that house let us know when you're done also in california now I'm in buffalo new york I can think through a friend of a friend I met a realtor in buffalo new york I ended up going up to buffalo to give a presentation in the same day that is the presentation in the morning I actually went and photographed this house and people always say if something happened I'd always take the family photos with me but it always amazes me actually how many family photos I find in these places and that's part of the unnerve ng part for me this is in fresno is well this is actually like painted I started going to these houses and I forgot they're all boarded up half the time I don't normally do like painting but I actually did a polite painting this one because it was almost pitch black in there and I mention that because from now on one of the things take areas I always carry a flashlight because a lot of times they end up in houses that are all boarded up and so it's not supposed to look like a painting but it's just a thirty second exposure wave the flashlight make it look like to something in there because it's actually really incredibly dark in pennsylvania also in pennsylvania, and I was struck by this one, I was thinking, so they took the drawers out and they used them to move them. And so I'm actually now up to seventeen states. I've been very fortunate. I've been able to find my way into houses and seventeen different states couple years ago, I was in florida visiting my parents who winter in southern florida and to facebook and through this help me out because I'm a photographer who needs help request somebody actually wrote me and said, if you come up to tallahassee for a day and you do a one day photography workshop, I'll get you into some houses, you're following me, that's all of these things are people are saying, yeah, he could give us something of value, and this is my little time lapse as I'm driving from miami to tallahassee, the camera is actually bolted into the seat here. I'm not actually is on interval on right? Cindy's thinking, is he actually it's all doing this all remotely? So I'm perfectly safe? I'm driving, but it's just kind of a way of touching on what I did, how I got the access all of that stuff as a lesson to both you and the web audience, now we're back in rhode island. And then just swore emails this is an email reconnecting with a cleanup contractor who I worked with before coming back to him and saying, hey, I'm going to be out there again um and then somebody I know in los angeles suggested another potential contract contact sent me to a very famous l a realtor who deals with foreclosures and is well known for dealing with the media and his name is leo nordine and this is one of the specialties and I wrote leo said in fact you can see I'm in editorial photographer bro, this is my little pitch and I got a text message from leo staff saying sure, and so this is actually a really important one because if you read it we just had a lock out someone has property left behind, it won't be cleaned out right away, but if you take a look so I went out to this house this is los angeles and I found that this family actually ate breakfast and then left and that's, you know, it's a difficult story it's an important story, but for me is a photographer. I'm really now kind of getting into this rhythm of people helping me I'm making photographs that are going to a new level there's sort of an intimacy that it suggested by this photograph in the same house I also found this I mean, this was a very productive shoot I can't say it was a great house but it was it was a for my purposes it was a very good shoe and also found this and because they give me permission I will there wasn't actually anybody behind me and one of things it's unfortunately a lot of times I'm literally working there's like a guy with a broom behind me cleaning up so in this case I basically hadas much time as I wanted so I was in there about three hours and after three hours I'm walking out the door and I turned around and I see this picture which is a really pivotal picture for the story I mean foreclosures are unfortunately about evictions right? And so actually never got this picture up until this point in time and I really did shoot two hundred pictures of this do you focus on the words eviction? Do you focus on the house? Do you have both of them and focus? You have a lot of depth of field to have a little depth of field how much house horizontal vertical how much did the sign on the left? I can break it all down that's that idea and the reason I'm doing this is because I know that once I leave this the next day or the day after they're going to come through the side I'll be gone it'll be all clean and that window I will never exist again, and so I never ever want to come away from a shoot saying, you know, I should have, so I tend to shoot very loose and the only thing that the only down side of that is a case and you have to end it, but I'm a pretty fast and, uh, now we're back in rhode island again thiss the snapshots to me or some of the hardest things to imagine people leaving behind, uh, this is also rhode island. Everybody wins, right, wins his hit that one, thank you very much. This's in fresno, california. Another one of these houses where I actually had about four hours. There wasn't anybody behind me. The house was pretty interesting, but the most interesting thing was I went out in the garage and most people use a tennis ball when they drive into a garage to tell themselves where to stop, right? Thes people used to hanging rabbit, they would, you know, before you hang rabbit from this angle, but from that angle with the foreclosure story, another one of these where I'm shooting probably close to two to three hundred pictures, four grand and focus background in focus. How much stuff to feel vertical horizontal, though, when you use the rope of the string, all these things and no pun intended the rabbit's not going anywhere, so I don't have to work in a hurry. But again, the problem is somebody's going to clean it up in the next week or so, it's going to be gone and so that's the kind of thing that I'm working, always shooting a lot of pictures by that one twice in the back yards. And so then remember, I talked about the newsletters earlier, so now I'm going to the point of mentioning in my monthly newsletter that I am looking for help from my readers of the newsletters. And so recently, one of the newer things is I'm getting more and more help getting into houses in other states like I was in virginia, nevada, arizona, louisiana in the last couple years through contacts with former students for people who read the news letter, another email making appointment with a contractor to photograph is a clean a house, and then I'm delivering images to my photo agency, and then I'm going back to my photo agency and saying, ok, give me some more input on the project. And I now at this point I'm build a page on my own website and I uses to refer both the realtors and the potential publishers exhibitors to the work because people want to see what does it look like and when you when you think of foreclosure photographs one of the things is a lot of people say always going to be people with a foreclosed sign right that's one of the visual languages I don't want to use okay? Another one is it going to be the people I chose not to use the people because my concern about photographing the people it becomes about those particular people I don't want it to be about those people I wanted to be a little more universal going to keep picking on you I think if this goes well you may end up with a point where you're saying it's not really about my father it's about this right? The trick is how do you make a project that's more universal and so by not photographing people I was able to make it more universal um oh then I got a query from photo district newsmagazine they were doing a piece on foreclosure photography so I was happy to be interviewed obviously and could you tribute some photographs and now we're really getting into sort of rhythm of what I'm trying to do I was mentioned in photo district news and so that gives me another opportunity to tell people on facebook, twitter, all social media that somebody else anointed me this is not a social media class, but have you must be have instruction on social media at school? You have to do it ok is not a class I mean, one of the things that I'm creative life does a bunch of classes in social media couple, which accepted which have been really, really helpful, but you really don't do want to learn that skill set. I'm not here to teach it, but again, that's, what I'm getting at is okay, so now pm's mentioned me and social documentaries meant to meet again, it's another opportunity to put this in front of people to say, I'm doing this. This is why I'm had a couple of instructive talk about what they have been a couple instructors, that that would have us blawg, you know, you have to do a block for that particular players like once a week or something like that, but nobody has gone in to say, you know, here's, how you can market your cellphone, instagram, facebook, twitter or anything like they've done nothing dealing with social media, but or they may put out a call saying that we need to get a page somebody used to build a facebook page so that we can communicate between students but no one has come out and say it, but they are a bunch of creative live class, yeah, a bunch of creative life classes, some of which I'm not doing a very good and very specific, some specific to photographers, some all media, for lack of it in trump. But they really are, if you have the time, well, we're sitting through to get this kind of information again, this is not a class and social media, but I'm just saying social media is another one of these ways that I'm getting the work out there. Um, now we're actually in tallahassee, and people often ask me, so what does it actually look like when you're photographing? And so this is me more or less hard at work? It was made with an iphone so it's not a great animation, but I'm actually photographing in tallahassee, florida. I do a lot with the tabletop tripod, which is what you see me working with here, and I'll talk more about tabletop tripods later, but it enables me to work in low light, unusual angles. And so this is what I was photographed this how I'm photographing and that's what I ended up with. Okay? And I'm trying to use everything for the color the kid's toy, the kids angle all that stuff to tell the story of this is a house I went into in this case, there is somebody right behind move the broom was going to be there in about half an hour, getting rid of all this stuff, um, also in florida, obviously a higher so higher and socioeconomic house. I mean, get a chalkboard in their class. And I was very happy about this because one of the things that stereotype that only down here is where chloe closures happened, and we're well, no, the actual history has shown it runs the whole gamut through a friend in louisiana, I got into some other houses in the new orleans area, and this was a house. Actually, these two are both professionals is, again what's, not lower economic. These were both very well paper paid professionals who ended up on the wrong end of the economy. And I know it's a difficult project. I'm not trying to say you should be doing something like this, but I'm trying to take you to the narrative how it comes together, how we define it, how I share with other people, how other people help me, and eventually how this whole thing started takes on a life of its own you're doing your photo essay is own the foreclosure I mean, are you taking it? Are you going to take it to another level in the scenes because I mean that's a lot of stuff that I coming out of these houses what are they doing with that stuff after they are married to the stone of the way? Or is that is that something that you may be looking into us for is like going an extra step because, like, I know there was one thing uh, there's a place in alabama that people who don't claim that luggage there's a big warehouse down there they go in and they pop open this luggage and it's like you can go in ankle shopping for all the stuff that's in there, but I wonder what they're doing with all this stuff because it seems that is decent furniture and, you know, toys and what kind of things I mean, are they donating this stuff too? Like good wheel or salvation army or well, I'm a slightly long answer in the process of doing this, I've become very well versed for better for worse, with laws and foreclosures in different states and various but the short answer in most states the a company that does the cleaning and therefore really the company that owns it has to keep the work for a certain period of time and the people who were in that house to have the option of coming back and collecting it typically paying some fees and stuff but they had that option at some point time it is disposed of how's this pose of I have to say I don't know one of the problems is that it's a good question, but for me I'm just trying to think especially because I'm traveling all over the country I'm doing this in the beginning I was doing it sort of in between other things and as time goes on a sort of more got more intentional but for me it's always a question how can I use my time most visually just do a couple things? No, it is a great question yeah, I mean, I don't know what happens in the very end, but I'm guessing that very state to state according to arizona and everything when they were going through all their housings and you know all of that problem and everything they would literally clean out the houses hold it for seventy two hours and after that they throw it seventy two hours, seventy two hours they throw it. I worked for a hardware store down there for about seven years, so I got a lot of feedback from the contractor of everything, but they literally most of the stuff that you've got in your photos and everything they would go through their they would put it on one of the trucks, take it to a warehouse, hold it for seventy two hours after that it was gone most of places I was dealing was more like two weeks or a month, but still fundamentally the same thing, which is that there's an n period and then right it's a good question days like custom from the internet as well. All right, because we have a lot of great questions, so I'm going to start off with one of these air very related, so I'm gonna start off with definitive how can you stay motivated? Photographing the same subjects for weeks and weeks along project for me is four hours of shit. Well, that's a long project from us for years part of it is that I don't do this anywhere near full time. I mean, I may have three or four trips a year to arizona's one trip for three or four days when I'm doing something else, so the shooting's very concentrated one of my goals is to and I don't know if I'll get to it, but I aspire to yet two thirty states, so I could say it basically did a nationwide project them up to seventeen so far um occasional going to house and I'll feel like it's kind of some things I've seen before but I'd really do want to kind of say, oh, there's something new, the socioeconomic is different that kid's toys different? Is there something I can find? I've gotten pretty good at walking into a house and assessing it in about five minutes because a lot of times I'll have a list of five or ten houses in a day that somebody gave me, so I have to make them all and I can go in right away and walk through it and say, no there's, nothing here that's going to add to my project or wow, look at that rabbit, I'm going to spend an hour on that rabbit I've never because I've never seen that before. So it's it's partly a challenge of attention span, but, um the thing of doing some for four hours, I think that that person actually probably wants to slow down, maybe take a deep breath and go a little slower in terms of working through great from nikki miami, can you? Asked david what sort of time line this is, how long after he begins a project, he put an initial set of images up to show people as an example to continue shooting and is a great question I mean it's a question that all of you were indirectly dealing with, I can't give you a hard and fast thing, but I'm going to talk tomorrow about what I call instant editing, where I shares work with other people to get some feedback and the the answer would go something like wenders enough work that you could show approximately twenty images, give or take to somebody else and they get most or all of what it is you're trying to say, then you're reaching the point where you're kind of getting this thing is taking on it's like a life of its own. You've figured out the milieu you figured out how to make somebody else care about it that's the point time where I'm going to probably start sharing it, it could be a cz little as six months, it could take as much as a couple of years. The israeli palestinian thing took me a good solid year to change from one idea to the other. This was pretty fast once I got past the the guys to photograph the actual stuff. Then I started sharing it fast and I was very lucky because the larger discussion, the economy and the foreclosure crisis pushed it along and made interest may there was a lot more interested in it because of that great thinking, just curious is from nikki miami as well have you ever been contacted by any of the families that have happened upon your work and seeing their home or objects? I have not been contacted by anybody in this project, though, I wouldn't surprise me terribly. I will say that I had some interaction with that homeless family and the school bus years later, which was very interesting, both in terms of how they perceived that time and what had happened to their lives afterwards. Because this is a probably a very good example of some of these people. Their lives will eventually go back to something better, and some of them probably won't. And so I don't. I'm not sure, but I do it being interesting question. I actually haven't had that yet.