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August 18, 2007

Renaissance From The Inside

This is the third of three posts featuring photographer Alan Chin’s images from FEMA’s Renaissance Trailer Park in Louisiana.  The theme of this post is "interior space."

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In my mind, what Alan Chin accomplishes with his Renaissance series is to bring a sense of humanity and individuality to the residents of this forsaken FEMA complex.  What I’m wondering about, however, at least with these interior images, is the trade-off with the physical impoverishment of the place.

Take Bonnie and Larry, for example, whose living quarters provide our primary view inside these vehicular shacks.

Witnessing Larry as "homeowner," peering down the way from his front door, taking in this powerful and complex personal moment between the couple sitting side-by-side; and witnessing Bonnie in an intimate moment with her dog, it seems Chin’s storytelling skill (with its allusions to more conventional domesticity) actually overrides, if not overwhelms the assessment of life in a tin can.

I find the same heartening effect in the scene of the man with the guitar.  Only by benefit of Alan’s explanation does a harder edge emerge.  He writes:  "He wanted to get a job playing at a church, but besides being borderline mentally ill, he was not much of a player."

An important thing Alan has done in these "indoor" scenes is to show more than just housing units.  The man with the guitar is in the laundry shed which he he seeks out, he says, for the quiet space.   The man in the doorway is picking his son up from the daycare spot.  Rosie O’Donnell paid to have it built and the YWCA pays the salaries of the workers there.

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Like stories with opposite intentions, however, not all of Alan’s "inside" photos are so personal.

Consider the picture of the kitchen space which is losing the battle with order.  Even more evocative, however, is the shot of the baby room inside the daycare center.  The cribs and the figures in perfect line with each other reflect the mindless, bureaucratically-authored linearity and rectangularity just outside.  Add in the remoteness and lethargy of the caretaker, and the abject isolation of the baby inside the circle, and we’re reminded how cruel it is to invoke the idea of Renaissance.

(Alan wishes to express special thanks to Jennifer Warren, who provided invaluable assistance in the creation of these images.)

(Previous Chin New Orleans posts at The BAG: Renaissance Clash (9/17/07); Renaissance Village From The Outside (8/16/07); The Katrina Landscape (5/3/06); St. Rita Ongoing (10/8/05);  And Then I Saw These (9/27/05).  All images courtesy of Alan Chin.  Louisiana. 2007.  Posted by permission.)

  • Hubris Sonic

    sweet jesus… please shoot me now…

  • Phredd

    I wanted to know something about the child care center. What is the capacity there? Is it available ad hoc or only for working parents? Is it cooperative, or who are the child care workers? What are the age ranges? Is there a playground outside and if so, supervised? Group sports?

  • margaret

    Are all of Alan’s pictures ones of despair? Did he see anyone laughing at any time while he was there? I’m thinking of what a late friend from SE Asia once said about the street people there, who literally slept and lived on the streets. He said that within their reality, they find happiness and a sense of accomplishment, or purpose: begging, bartering for food, interacting with other street people. We, on the outside, look in and think, from all our materialistic glory, that these lives are tragic. Certainly the ones seen in these pictures by Alan are; particularly, in this country where, at one time, they had something, maybe not much, but something that was their space and their place. What adds to their tragic loss of material well-being is the fact that they seem so passive. That, I feel is due to the system of education and governance in this country, as well as the feeling that watching TV leaves one with: helplessness.

  • Alan Chin

    of course there is humor and laughter at the camp. but that’s not what people want to present to me, as an outsider, at first. they want to tell me their stories, their complaints, not necessarily thinking that i can help them (although of course there is that hope) but just to be able to talk to someone who will listen.
    we noticed that there are no mental health counselors or clinic at Renaissance Village. arguably, the residents need that as much or more as food, shelter, and jobs.
    I don’t know too much about the childcare center except that is was built by Rosie O’Donnell and that the YWCA pays the staff which works there, some of whom are residents of RV, some of whom commute. There is an outdoor playground, and different rooms for each age group. The photo here is of the “baby room,” there were other rooms for older kids.
    It struck me that these children, born, and getting raised in, this camp, may, if this goes on long enough, become like the young Palestinians who, when asked where they are from, name the villages that their parents or grandparents were evicted from almost 50 years ago. Keys around necks. Exile.

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