Where is the Crisis?

I’m always somewhat surprised that there are not more artists reacting to environmental conditions. Perhaps it’s from spending so much time among students, perhaps it’s the latent and fizzling art market that plucked hipsters from bars and placed them on art fair stages, but it still seems so many young artists are still concerned primarily in their work with the self.
It’s not a revelation that we are in the midst of a large paradigm shift. In fact the market for work by recent MFA grads has seemingly changed overnight. Is this a good or bad thing? Well if it focuses young artists on gesture rather than splash than in my eyes it couldn’t be any more welcome.
Yesterday I received an email from a magazine editor looking for images that addresses the current foreclosure and economic problems, specifically boarded up homes, streets full of for sale signs, etc… A quick Getty images search reveals close-ups of foreclosure and for-sale signs and mostly little else than what a Flickr search might find or for that matter, a Google search. I started to feel the pain of the editor here. I couldn’t help but wonder where are all the great photographers who are addressing this subject? If one recalls the Katrina disaster not only did we see a huge amount of good press images but also iconic images by Robert Polidori, Chris Jordan, among many other art photographers. At one point it seemed a rush to the publishers to even ‘lay claim’ to the subject. 

Since last spring I’ve been photographing much of the retail end of the economy downtown for a new project, Dark Stores, Ghostboxes and Dead Malls. In doing so much research I’ve come across a few others who share some of the same subject and concern, and certainly many Flickr examples. But the few I’ve come across pale in comparison to the number of ‘drunken party pictures’, ‘ambiguous ambiguity’ or the ‘pretty portraits of pretty people’ projects. This is not to denounce that work, some of which I’ve a big fan of, I simply can’t help but wonder when a topic so large looms in front of young artists why not the desire to address it through their work? Is the self still so important? Will it really be how we remember the beginning of the 21st century?
Even moreso, where are the foreclosure pictures? After asking some friends, I  did discover the intriguing work of Eve Morgenstern, Craig McCormick and I know friend Greg Stimac has some new work that deals will home sales. Others?


  1. Posted February 9, 2009 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    TJ Proechel’s new foreclosure project images on the photodreamboats blog: http://photodreamboats.com/

    When it’s edited, it will blow people away.

  2. Posted February 9, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Also, local David Schalliol works with an not entirely different urban phenomenon- gentrification.

  3. Posted February 9, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Yes Daniel!
    Heard good things about TJ’s work from Matt Austin.

  4. Posted February 9, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Brian – great post here. I know Mark Tucker was working on the empty car dealerships.

    And your post is going to get me started on a project I’ve been talking about for a few months now.

    I’ve just moved to Atlanta and am intrigued by the idea that so called poor or “fringe” neighborhoods have a much lower quality of nutritional offerings largely in part to a mandate by the SBA to make loans to business owners in these neighborhoods and the underwriting requirements made it much easier to get loans for a chain restaurant (McDonalds, KFC, etc) than say a home-cooked meal establishment or a grocery store.

    So, thank you for your post-

  5. Posted February 9, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I should also add that the amazing Zoe Strauss has been making some of the most heartfelt, downright important work the deals with economy, class and well America.
    Russell so glad to motivate! Send pictures when you’re ready.
    It’s interesting to think of the FSA people as what Getty is now. Sadly most of Getty is forgettable, while the FSA work was so considered, strong and lasting.

  6. Posted February 9, 2009 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I should also mentionyoung Milwaukee-agrapher John Lusis who is also addressing the retail end of things.
    Lots of promise.

  7. Posted February 9, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Permalink


    I don’t know if it is even soon enough to properly address this issue. We are in the middle of it. Maybe work is being made but hasn’t come out yet. That of course is the simple answer. The other being that people are largely responding to the environmental changes. How much work has come out in the past two or three years addressing environmental change, and the way we see nature (use it, contain it or otherwise). And, if you are looking online for pictures on places like flickr, you are barking up the wrong tree. Flickr (and other social networking sites) are the number one place for party pictures, self portraits, ect. I think the next ten years is more going to be known for the time when the most amount of photo based projects about nature (change, beauty or otherwise) than any other time before us.

  8. Posted February 9, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    I just happened upon a portfolio by Charlotte Whalen the other day titled subprime: http://www.charlottewhalen.net/projects/subprime/

  9. Posted February 9, 2009 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Shane good points, time is indeed necessary but I guess my point is I’m not even seeing much work in progress by students or otherwise. The flickr search was not for self portraits/projects but to compare the quality of editorial images to those the same as on Getty and even a google search for Foreclosure. It’s maybe a whole other topic but sad to see the level of quality images done for editorial use go so low.

  10. Posted February 9, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Yea. I would have to agree with you on the editorial section. I have a lot of friends at my school (Art institute of boston) that are working on projects about nature. Not specifically the current state of the economy or anything like that. But maybe it is just because its all around me that I think this way. But, yeah. Editorial is an interesting ordeal all in itself.

  11. Posted February 9, 2009 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    the carefree pursuits of the oblivious, while rome burns: sounds like an interesting idea for a series.

  12. B
    Posted February 9, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Todd Hido has a series about foreclosed homes. And Amy Stein’s Stranded touches on these shaky times in a non-literal way.

  13. Posted February 9, 2009 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    someone at risd was working on foreclosures – but only taking photos as a job on behalf of the people doing the repossessing and then pretending it was an art project.

    selfless, selfless risd.

  14. Posted February 9, 2009 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post. I too thought about this and last fall started a project called “shattered and shuttered”. It got pushed to the side as it seemed a little bit to tied to the moment. Also, to be honest, when I saw your closed mall photos I wondered if it would be redundant. Anyhow got caught up in other things, but I have been looking at a lot of closed fast food places recently….stefan

  15. Posted February 9, 2009 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Hey All,
    John Moore from Getty did a great Photoj project on one aspect of the current economic climate.

    But to be honest this is such a massive issue, and one that is relatively young, that I don’t think editorial photographers or artists have had enough time to digest, reflect and produce cohesive bodies of work.

  16. Posted February 9, 2009 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    thanks for that link to John’s work, some of it is really getting places, specifically some of the portraits of kids. Real tear jerkers…

    I don’t agree that we need some time to digest the issue. esp. in editorial. Again looking through so much of the news pictures and seeing picture after picture of signs on lawns really suggests lazy photography and not much thinking at all.

  17. Posted February 9, 2009 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Great post, well said. I believe that most artists need empathy to see and document this way. Unfortunately, much of American art culture is insulated (or mentally insulated, perhaps), and will never experience this crisis they way that my unemployed brother does. You can’t teach empathy.

    If it get’s bad enough, maybe we’ll have another WPA. Sheet film at the food pantry?

    I say all of this after just ordering 4×5 film because 8×10 is not in the budget right now. The Chamonix goes back in the closet for a while and out comes the speed graphic. I’m just happy to be shooting, and that often dictates where I point the camera. I think I might spend some time in Elkhart.

  18. Posted February 9, 2009 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    I feel like a jerk to keep harping on this point. But really, how much good work comes in such a short time span. And do we really want to see some halves of a project that are not fully fleshed out? I guess you’ve hit some sort of nerve here seeing as how we have 16 comments (13 of which are just suggestions of people who are doing what you were asking) but I think that is besides the point. It proves that if you have to ask the question then there is some sort of issue. To try to prove otherwise just pushes the point further that the work just isn’t out there. Editorial is another issue. I mean is it really useful? Sure they are good for certain things, but to a point, this is even thinking that images can change/reference/operate in such a way. But in terms of art its a different story.

    Sorry for another lengthy post, just much to say.

  19. Posted February 9, 2009 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    No apologies needed Shane. I think we’re addressing the 2 points here, one that editorial is very much lacking these days, perhaps because of the proliferation of cheap reader submitted images. The other is as you say indeed perhaps the work (by artists, students) is not being done and I might suggest that’s a result of a large amount of work being done that is focused on the self.

  20. Posted February 9, 2009 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    yea. well I mean if you have looked at fjord.org at all, there is a lot work addressing nature and whatnot. I guess that is what I am thinking about in terms of student work. But again, half of that is self oriented I guess.

    Lets just blame facebook and call it done!

  21. Posted February 9, 2009 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    Hah or Katrina!

  22. Posted February 9, 2009 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    I think when it comes to editorial photography, laziness is not the problem in so much as the need to fill the media machine. Those cliche images of empty houses and “for sale” signs are what newspaper and magazine want. They get the point across in a simple way without being art or speak to a greater depth.

  23. jonfeinstein@gmail.com
    Posted February 9, 2009 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Hey Brian,
    Here’s a list of some familiar names. Will Steacy, Cara Phillips, Nina Berman, Justin James Reed, Eric Percher, Amy Stein, Daniel Shea, Molly Landreth, Mary Mattingly. The politics are subtle in many of these photographers work, but touch on economic, environmental and/or social crises we are experiencing today.

  24. Posted February 10, 2009 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    Must we really base our actions on or around the art market or the needs of magazines respectively? Assuming we are talking about the editorial photographer, yes, as a profession one bases what they create around the needs of a magazine or whatever the client is. But you raised the question of ‘great photographers’. The great photographers are still there, at this point in history, there are more people taking photographs than ever before, whiche may also be the problem. It is the magazines who look to Flickr and google for material. I think it really comes down to money. Magazines just arent willing to pay seasoned photographers and in return settle for mediocre photographs by people who are willing to be pushed around and exploited. If the magazine was so concerned with image quality maybe they should hire a ‘great photographer’ and they will recieve ‘great photographs’. If you are talking in terms of the artist (disreguarding the magazine and businessman disguised as artist), is it fair to place the role of the artist on everyone and their mother who has a digital camera and a flickr account?
    Not only do we have to consider the role of the artist, more specifically the role of the photographer dealing with issues of today, but consider the fact that everyone with a camera does not, and cannot be expected to, have the same intentionality. The fact that there are more drunken party pictures then concerned, or thoughtful photography makes sense. 99% of photographs found on flickr are from people who are disconected from art, the role of the artist, or informed society for that matter. Web sites like flickr meerly replace the photo album. There have always been photos of babies, and birthdays, and drunk frat kids. The internet only makes these photographs accessible to the general population, instead of a few friends. To look at this as the representation of the young artist or what the young artist has become is absurd and offensive.
    In reguards to the content in which the majority of young artists focus on, the self as well as the economy as well as anything for that matter is just as relevant (or irrelevant) as the other. The fact that we are being flooded with images dealing with certain subject matter cannot automatically deem it to be irrelevant, or unimportant. Yes there are a lot of people exploring simiilar subjects, and yes there are issues which are not being photographed as much, but there are also a lot more people photographing. Art schools are only growing, churning out new young artists daily. Since art institutions are businesses and are just as concerned if not more with profit than the state of art, we will continue to be bombarded with inadequate art. But I do not think inadequate art is the problem, there has always been more art than is remembered or we would like to remember. It is not the majority of art in which dictates how the beginnings of centuries are remembered, it is the few who do pay attention and do care and do create successful and radical art. How is the young artist supposed to succeed (as if that is their intention) when the demoralizing stigma of being disconected youth is automatically placed upon them by the generation who is judging them with different standards than they judge themselves. Do we remember generations by the masses of people who are disconected and dont care, sitting watching tv and living their nine to five lives, or do we remember them by the few who made a difference and somehow, ironically, turn into the icons of a generation who just doesnt care.

    By looking at the comments section alone, there seem to be more photographers discussing the issues at hand (economy, foreclosures etc) than the easily comparable FSA photographers. And out of hte FSA photographers, how many really made an impact, or are still looked at today. Walker Evans and Dorthea Lange? Gordon Parks? I dont think its a question of quantity but quality (as cheesy as it sounds). The problem is not that there arent enough people photographing these issues, the problem is that people dont care about the issues.

  25. Posted February 10, 2009 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    You speak of the “self” as if it exists apart from society. I must disagree, since no person is an island, but is rather shaped and influenced by the surrounding culture. Therefore, to make work about the “self” is also to make work about society, culture, etc. For example, Nan Goldin’s self-portraits reveal personal things about her life (abusive relationships, drug use, in fact, they run dangerously close to the “Flicker” images that you are so critical of. The only difference is that they generally have better light.) while simultaneously commenting on some of the crises of her time and how they affect us on an individual level (aids epidemic). Franz Kafka is an even better example of an artist that examines the “self” and how the “self” is affected by society. In his writings we learn what it was like to be a Jewish person in Europe in the early part of the twentieth century. His characters are plunged into a nightmarish world where they have little chance of either understanding it, succeeding in it, or merely surviving it. The main character in The Trial succumbs to a Nihilistic view point and actually runs towards his own execution. These characters reflect Kafka’s own personal conflict as he longed to embrace a culture and place that hated him (Prague). Kafka looks at his place in the world, and uses that observation to comment on that world. If we want to improve our world, then we need to first understand our individual place in it. Understanding leads to change, and a change of the individual leads to a better society. To do the opposite is to engage in a never ending finger pointing match. When in the end, the place that we really need to point our fingers at is our “selves.” And like Szarkowski said, photography is like a finger.

  26. Posted February 10, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Thinking about this topic and comparing some of the work that has been listed in the replies I feel the social realities are far greater than documenting the obvious. The effect of the cause and not just physically. We know everything is closing and our neighborhoods are a wreck, we drive by it everyday. What I feel would be the most compelling topics would be the social issue’s, demographics, or the social effects of the foreclosure crisis. What has it done to us as a society rather than physically what do our neighborhoods look like. what are people doing to live now and to get by. Maybe photography can’t achieve it?
    I do believe that we have yet to realize the implications of the past 8 months so maybe the dust hasn’t settled enough and all we can do is document the desolation.
    Our current economic crisis is in part due to desire and fraud and greed. We all wanted what the other guy had and someone told us we could have it, so we took it. Bad or good its about the class system.

    Alright I’m rambling, can’t wait to see more photographs, these be important times….

    PS I really like Zoe Strauss

  27. Posted February 10, 2009 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s great how this topic has instigated such a response.

    I’d agree, Brian, that now is an excellent time to be focusing on those ideas, however, I don’t blame this generation for largely making work about the self. The concept of understanding the self personally and a person’s role in society is a difficulty and generally, we are guided to seek security or comfort in our lives. With that said, I think those who are choosing to focus their work on the self are doing so in order to establish a place or purpose for their surroundings (Bill made good points about this). I think that especially in a time that provides possibilities of constructing our public identities (facebook, blogs, art websites), a controllable facade is more easily manageable than our personal mentalities. The apprehension involved with taking on political issues is normal, in my eyes, and to defend the work requires a stable, confident platform. I think the ones making work that focuses on the self may be doing so subconsciously or by default, in a way, due to the draw of many bodies of work involving both working out something the artist doesn’t completely understand and also finding a comforting variable in the progress (in the case of work with the self – the control of identity represented). I find the apprehension in taking on political issues similar to that of getting or not getting a tattoo, for the reason that the current ideals that we’re representing may change later on. However, for that same reason, I don’t think that the ones making work about the self are limited to that topic. As Dylan put it, “I’ll know my song well before I start singing.”

  28. Posted February 10, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Great ideas all. Glad to have your thoughts.
    Keep them coming.

  29. Posted February 10, 2009 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    honestly, brian, I think it’s hard for me to directly address some of these issues because I’m mentally blocked (intimidated) by my intense awareness of the work that you and others do so well. I’ve consciously edited out a lot of shots I’ve taken because they screamed to me “that’s a brian ulrich” or something similar. I love the work that deals with such issues, and present it to as many people as possible, but it feels like a lot of it is already being made by people who have been fine tuning their approach to that subject matter for a long time.

    This is a different argument than the tired “there’s nothing original” catchphrase – it’s more that I feel there are people I’m in the same spheres as making such work and I don’t want to encroach on their territory or in any way lesson the impact of it, since I think it’s so important. Actually, my views of my own photography are closer to personal photo albums than mass communication medium (if asked what is interesting about my work, I’d probably talk a lot more about installation or curating than I would about my little photo books).

    Still, I think about my little books in a way that reacts to the consumer culture we’re in – when someone asks what it is about, or a book company rep asks me if I’ve got a “gimmick” I cringe. It’s about trying to regain viewing as a more subtle (innocent? complex?) act, trying to link images together without being an advertisement for something.

    I often feel that even socially conscious imagery has much in common with advertisement – an image about the big box store is still an image with a sullen and obvious subject, designed to make people think about a certain topic. I admit to having a love for images that seem important but not designed to entice to viewer to think about any particular thing – just to entice the viewer to think at all.

    It’s hard for me to work these ideas in this comment box format, when talking about this kind of thing – I wish I could sit down and have a conversation. Maybe I should shoot an email or visit chicago sometime, haha.


  30. Posted February 10, 2009 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Ian, I’m touched and though it may be another post, whether or not a project that have been ‘claimed’ by another depends upon really the work. There were some who claimed what I was doing in the beginning was derivative of others’ work, Parr, Gursky, Robert Adams. I didn’t agree help steadfast onto my ideas and followed my instincts.
    There really is no subject that is untouchable, the thing is moreso to define your own voice within it. If you care enough about an issue make work about it. It’s important to know and learn from others and there has been a few times when an idea couldn’t be done better or more informative but worry about that later.
    In other words, man… did I hate Radiohead’s first record but am I glad they kept making them!

  31. Posted February 10, 2009 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Ian (et al.) I should also mention anytime you’re in Chicago conversation in away from a computer is always preferred. The limitations of this medium is far and talking always reveals much more (including sarcasm!).

  32. Posted February 11, 2009 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    I’ve dabbled with these ideas in my Blandscape project over the years. http://martinbuday.com. Jeff Brouws and Mitch Epstein pop into my mind immediately. The work is out there, and has been out there, but it isn’t so obvious when there isn’t such an obvious crisis going on.

  33. Posted February 11, 2009 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    I agree completely. I find that photography has the ability to become a pastiche. Often I find large format color landscape photography about house’s or American suburbia to be always derivative of Sternfeld or Soth-ian. I can’t help but make those connections because often the rigidity of photography can cause style mimic-ing. Often its similar subjects with similar tools, the challenge is how to make it your own. Infusing social issues with the artist’s viewpoint is a tightrope act. Its hard to go out and not think about how a past photograph of a similar subject was set up.
    Brian nailed it when he said make work you believe in, plain and simple, your viewpoint will show through in the end.

  34. Posted February 11, 2009 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    There is Benoit Aquin, from Montreal, whose project China’s Dust Bowl concentrates on ecologically damaging consequences brought about by human activities, specifically the overexploitation of arable land.


  35. Posted February 11, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink


    Yesterday, you came to speak to my Documentary class taught by Terry Evans. Ironically, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, so I was surprised to learn you would be speaking to our class. I wanted to say I thought the ideas you shared were incredibly thought-provoking and your incite were helpful for a young photographer like myself. I usually get stuck on the “how do I do this?” more often than the idea itself, so to hear you explain your process was splendid. I wish more professional photographers did that.

    As for a comment concerning this post, coming from a student-in-the-midst-of-it-all perspective, you are entirely correct in your observations. Student work is usually entirely egotistical and self-involved. However, I think this is due to inexperience. You said yourself that as an undergraduate student, most of your work was a reflection of the state of your life, of trying to figure out your identity and future. This holds true, in many ways, to all young students. I guess this is why I found your talk yesterday so interesting. Your work is centered in a political and social America, not in your own mind, and I think students can learn from your work and your words.

    Anyway, thanks again for talking to my class.

    ~Elise Tanner

  36. Posted February 11, 2009 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I think what is missing from a lot of very interesting fine art/social documentary photography is the articulated substance behind the images. Brandon’s comment is speaking to this, and in the matter of this discussion – the housing and economic crisis – there is so much more to reveal than just the aftermath, the dire results of greed and failed systems. The real challenge in documenting these enormous ideological projects is finding a way to visually articulate an aspect of the crisis in a meaningful way. I don’t think that photographers should burden themselves with a fear of originality. Focus on the project and you’ll likely find a voice.

    As an architect, I witness a side of real estate development and consumer culture that many people never see. Developers and bankers have a language all their own, referring to buildings as “product” and “vehicles for profit.” I came to the realization that most of what is built around us today is really not for our use or enjoyment, not to better our lives, but simply to wrangle a dollar from our pocket to feed a proforma. This changed how I fundamentally think about making buildings and pictures.

    Behind the waste and loss that this economic crisis will produce are people and systems which manipulated money. I challenge myself (and others) to figure out a way to picture these things. Maybe it’s too late in this crisis, but I hope in the future when somebody else starts making money hand over foot that there is a clever fine art photographer who can document their rise before the inevitable fall, which often takes many others down with them.

    As documentarians, we’re most often in the unfortunate position of having to picture the results of the immediate past, posessing the hope that our future will learn through the pictures.

  37. Posted February 11, 2009 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Elise, glad to hear you enjoyed Terry also has a lot to share and is quite a photographer herself. A lot to learn from her.
    I do think that a certain level all work has the propensity to be egotistical and self involved. Certainly believing my work has purpose outside the art world could be seen as rather ego driven! 😉
    Ps. I still heart Flickr.

  38. Posted February 12, 2009 at 4:57 am | Permalink


    not the most original piece of work but i think it captures heightened sense of despair felt by all Western families after Christmas and at the start of this year

  39. Posted February 12, 2009 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I’ve been in touch with Kate Phillips at Magnum, who tells me that photographer Bruce Gilden is indeed working on a project about foreclosures in the US. See her e-mail excerpt:

    “You might be interested in taking a look at his most recent (and very timely) project on foreclosures. Late last year, he traveled to Fort Meyers, Florida (where Obama spoke today) and photographed foreclosed homes and their former owners. There is a fantastic Magnum In Motion piece on this work that you can view here:


    In a few weeks, he’ll be traveling to Detroit to continue the project and an exhibition of the work will be opening this fall.”

    I am thinking about bringing Bruce to Columbia College to lecture. So there is at least one (other) photographer out there working on this.

  40. Posted February 13, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    I was sent this discussion and thought I’d comment. I don’t think the reason we haven’t seen a panoply of foreclosure work is a question of whether or not young photographers are engaged in social issues. To my mind the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

    The nature of the foreclosure crisis is nothing like Katrina. The reason we saw so much post Katrina work, is because it was so easy to make. The pictures were largely exteriors or photographs of abandoned homes and folks that were photographed were not ashamed being photographed. A natural disaster isn’t anybodies fault.

    This topic is incredible emotionally sensitive to people. Speaking from experience it’s not easy to get people to invite you into their homes, let alone convince them to have their picture taken. Many people are losing there homes after living in them for 40 years, homes that they raised families in. There’s so much shame and mistrust tied into all of it.

  41. Posted February 13, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Smart points. Access makes a world of difference. Certainly there is a challenge in making this work. Though it seems such an important story to tell, these people you describe. Hopefully we’ll see it done with a sensitivity and empathy to subject that usually involves making personal connections.

  42. Posted February 13, 2009 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Anthony Suau of Time just one the 2008 UPI photo of the year for an image from his series “Tough Times in Cleveland”.

    there’s probably a lot of interesting images out there being created by photojournalists who get paid to work “the beat”. i don’t know if newspaper or magazine photographers are allowed to put there stuff up on flickr..

  43. Posted February 15, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Re: Young artist and this Topic: They don't have any skin in the game. Once your ars is on the line then it's go time. For instance, I know plenty of trade contractors that will do just about anything to bring in a paycheck. If you cut off beer, hot wings, and mark iTunes up to $2-$3/song then their world starts to change..it get worse. When peoples lifestyle takes a change for the worse, that's when the natives gets restless.

    RE:Is the self still so important?
    Of course it is. Look at the Real housewives of Orange Co., & NYC, and allll the other reality shows, the allll the "lifesyle" networks. Look who sells it, look who buys it.

    In a really bad way art mimics life and life mimics art. Who were the artist's? Who were the subjects? Who signed the model release? Who was the dealer? Who was the buyer?

    I love the the ARCHECTECTS comment on "product" and the other business language when designing a building. I've heard it before, and by all definition it is a product, it does sound sinister.

    How will we remember the beginning of the 21st century? This is the $64,000 question. This should be a topic in itself. But it's too early to tell, we are only 9 years into it. Maybe…Sobering, Reality Check???

  44. Posted February 17, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Hello Brian.

    I’ve been touching on these issues in my own photography, but I’m not one to come right out and say it. Although there is this dislocating fact about the economy, I tend to draw my eyes towards formal qualities in the end…

    I’ve been making photographs along the three rivers in Pittsburgh, Pa for about a year now. Most of the area here is a post-industrial mess with subtle differences from the suburban economic decline–I don’t think they even bother boarding up houses here.

    The idea is that these places have been suffering for years, but people don’t realize that there is a “condition” and keep on living in the row houses that were built for steel workers in the 1930’s.

    Perhaps you need to make it a challenge for young photographers. Ask us, “Is it possible to photograph the economy?”

    It would have to be a team effort I suppose.


  45. Posted February 22, 2009 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    I think that one thing we need to think about is what we mean by “self”, and maybe even “young”. I would consider myself a young artist (I’m 28) who makes work ostensibly about the “self”, but this isn’t out of selfishness or a lack of engagement with the world or sheer vapidity. I worked for years as a carpenter, growing up the son and nephew of a whole family of tradesmen. I make work about what I know and understand because it’s how I know and understand what is around me. It isn’t documentary, but it is engaged with the sociopolitical world. I find a lot of other people making work that fits this mold, Kelli Connell for instance. I think that given the enormity and complexity of the current economic situation, it will probably be mostly work like this, responding in a personal poetic way, that will be best suited to address it without falling into the traps of for sale signs and empty houses. At least for my tastes. It will probably also be subtle enough that we might not notice right away that that is what it’s doing. I don’t think that work about the self is the problem, just bad work.

  46. Posted February 22, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Matt, I couldn’t agree more and I believe that recent work by Matt Austin is intensely personal while still a profound example of the dramatic effects of the economic downturn (the project documents his father after bankruptcy).
    The definition of ‘self’ as a project is really up to whomever sees it as a topic. While Kelli and Jen Davis’ projects might seem overtly political, it’s there and I think adds a wonderful layer to the work. Others might see the ‘self’ as indulgence and while it can be it does not discount the work. A few seem to have interpreted my post as a condemnation of those types of projects. It’s not meant to. It does however ask the question about what is really important to photograph now. No real answer there but certainly a worthwhile investigation.

  47. Posted February 22, 2009 at 9:29 pm | Permalink


    I think you’re right, your post wasn’t meant as a condemnation, but due to the limitations of this medium you mentioned earlier can be misread that way. This is a fascinating conversation, and I think the question of what is important to photograph now is the most important question any of us can ask ourselves and each other. I am really thankful you have set this opportunity up here to have that conversation.

  48. Posted February 23, 2009 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    funny, I’ve been thinking the same thing myself… I do still do the “selfish” work, although it’s omre about the people around me. I’m also working on a project that’s about the place around me, the times, etc. All of it goes up on my blog, anyway, and eventually will be shown in galleries (hopefully).

  49. Posted February 23, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Hello Brian.

    Lauren Greenfield has cast an eye over the foreclosure and housing crisis in the Inland Emprie, California.


    Some of the shots are plain, but others touch upon the human catastrophe – such as the image of detritus about a living room florr, including kids sports trophies and 401-K statements.

    This is known as ‘life left behind’ phenomenon.


  50. Posted February 23, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Personally I have seen a decent amount of work covering foreclosures, but none of it is believable. It’s all boxed in the same packaging if you know what I mean. It boils down to that people cant relate and/or don’t care. Why would a young photographer be interested in the topic? Unless they can connect to the subject they’re not going to want to invest energy into it. Then they read stories about photographers like Anthony Suau, he documented foreclosed homes in Cleveland, Ohio. He was named Photo Press Winner for the project and is having a hard time finding work. It’s a very difficult subject to photograph and do it justice. Maybe it’s just to intimidating for most.

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