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February 13, 2009

World Press Photo Awards/Your Turn: Now War Is Coming Into People’s Houses Because They Can’t Pay Their Mortgages

Suau World Press 08 award.jpg

The winners of perhaps the most visible and prestigious photojournalism award were announced today. World Press Photo has named this image by Anthony Suau as the 2008 Photo of the Year.

The World Press Photo site offers this description and analysis from the jurors:

The picture shows an armed officer of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department moving through a home in Cleveland, Ohio, following eviction as a result of mortgage foreclosure. Officers have to ensure that the house is clear of weapons, and that the residents have moved out. The winning photograph, taken in March 2008, is part of a story commissioned by Time magazine. The story as a whole won Second Prize in the Daily Life category of the contest.

Jury chair MaryAnne Golon said: “The strength of the picture is in its opposites. It’s a double entendre. It looks like a classic conflict photograph, but it is simply the eviction of people from a house following foreclosure. Now war in its classic sense is coming into people’s houses because they can’t pay their mortgages.

Fellow juror Akinbode Akinbiyi commented: “It is a very ambiguous image. You have to go into it to find out what it is. Then all over the world people will be thinking ‘this is what is happening to all of us’.”

Juror Ayperi Ecer said: “We have something here which visually is both clear and complex…It’s not about issues – 2008 is the year of the end of a dominant economic system. We need a new language, to learn how to illustrate our lives.”

Of course, I’m interested in your reaction to the photo, and your response to the juror comments. For the sake of argument, I might ask the question: How much is this photo actually reflective of war? And to the extent it is, how much does war, and war photography, represent an accurate or effective lens through which to view the world-wide recession? And, especially relevant here at BNN, how effective is the ambiguity here, and where is it taking you?

(I’m going to keep this post at the top of the blog through Saturday evening to foster discussion.)

Suau’s original slideshow: “Tough Times In Cleveland” for TIME

Anthonysuau.com

About the Photographer

BagNews

  • tfitz

    Frightening. And what has the government done about the financial powers ‘that be’ about thier lies, corruption, chincanery, in unregulated financial products like Credit Default Swaps. Nada.

  • dissector

    I have had the good fortune of seeing the WPPA in person three times, in Amsterdam each time (nice as it is a Dutch prize). It is a deeply moving show, of course because of the photos themselves but also because of the large size of the displayed prints and the venue itself — each time the show was held in an very large, empty church. It makes for a long, emotional day. Looking over the grand prize winners from years past, they are almost always images from armed conflict or famine. I think it is striking that the judges have selected a US domestic scene, albeit an armed one, as the winner this year. I have no insight, other than it may comment on the militarization of the US or how the civilian population is confronting the unknown fearfully (whatever is hiding in the dark).
    If the tour goes anywhere near you, take a day and see it. Leave time for some fresh air and sun afterward however; it is a challenging way to spend a day.

  • rebecca wiess

    Looks like my neighbor’s house last week, except plus cop. Between the failure of foreclosure and the chaos of eviction, people are leaving a lot behind – the pictures and treasures which upholster our lives. The current economic chaos leaves us poorer in many ways beyond dollars.

  • Stella

    It makes me think about privilege. There, but for fortune, go you and I.
    Not in 40 years have I personally connected the word ‘war’ with the police. This photo asks the question “who and what is this officer protecting and serving?”
    It could have been taken in Baghdad.

  • gnarlytrombone

    Agreed on the inaptness of the war analogy, other than a vague resemblance to home searches in Iraq. But still a powerful image.
    To me it illustrates how economic crisis breaks down the barrier between public and private – not only the arm of the state marching through the living room, but also the photojournalist violating what had been domestic space. One can imagine the occupants enduring further intrusion and humiliation from the more “benign” arm of the state when seeking public assistance, being required to lay bare what’s left of their lives.

  • black dog barking

    You have no expectation of privacy if you can’t pay your mortgage. Or if your landlord doesn’t pay the mortgage with your rent check. Or if you insist on doing something a terrorist might do like fly on a commercial airplane.

  • lytom

    The rage of the disorder has a strong anti-cop, anti establishment feeling.
    The silent approval of the public, who is not involved, is part of it too.
    Dispossessing people is a strange business done in the name of the society and the cop fits in that picture well.
    One does not need to ask, who did the damage to the house. In part, it is the reflection of the occupants’ state of mind. In part, it is the reflection of what society does when it feels it has the right to trespass and to throw people out on the street. There is absence of humanity in this picture.

  • http://www.artwranglers.com.au Nigel Lendon

    I’m looking at this from a distant part of the empire of American cultural influence – Australia. I say this because in almost every regard this image has been rendered conventional in this country by the continual stream of cop shows originating from the U.S. which are to be seen on the television every night. The dramatic narrative of authority and transgression exercised through the barrel of a gun has been rendered normal. A fourteen year old would assume this is a still from a SPS (Single Person Shooter) game, but would wonder why it is in black and white. So almost all of the jurors’ commentary is informed not by the evidence of the image, but by the drama of the contextual knowledge that the bring to their judgement. In this sense it fails. The drama of foreclosures and evictions is not in the depiction, but in the frame and specificity of the sub-text. The image says nothing about war, class war, or the instrumentality of government in the aftermath of the global economic meltdown. These are all projections which have prefigured the jurors’ assessment. At best the image is an ironic conjunction of reality and fiction – but in my view it lacks the visual references necessary to become symbolic in the manner suggested by the jurors.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/copelag cope

    First, it is black and white which for me, age 58, is associated with with classic war imagery. Second, the officer of the law (cop? deputy?) is bedecked with considerable kit (including, apparently, body armor and a high-tech laser sighted sidearm), suggestive of today’s cyber-warriors . Third, I have become used to images of soldiers in Iraqi civilian homes. Fourth, it is a scene of disrupted normalcy (chair, open drawers, empty boxes and household furnishings).
    As for the juror comments, they are pretty much spot on.
    In terms of the current economic times, I think this is likely to become a more common happenstance as time passes.
    Finally, as for ambiguity, I am not sure what you mean. This image is not ambiguous to me at all. It suggests the ongoing transfer of assets from the average person to those in power to employ law enforcement.

  • stevelaudig

    The Iraqification of America was the result not the Americanization of Iraq. Thanks George.

  • Valkyrie607

    The images of war have become so familiar to me. I have grieved and still grieve for the thousands of people that my government deemed “collateral damage.” Thousands upon thousands of broken lives, mothers, fathers, and children riven from each other, homes broken into, peace destroyed. My government. But so far away.
    Looking closer at the photo, I see that this is not Iraq, not the middle east; this is a policeman, not a soldier, and the overturned furniture is even more familiar than the violence on the TV news. I recognize the careful tiling in the bathroom, the carefully carved frame of the cupboard door hanging open. The violence implicit in the cop’s careful aim breaks through: this could be the house next door.
    Why is this happening? I can’t believe this is the best way we can think of. I refuse the idea that this brutality, this callousness that’s built into our society is inevitable. It’s all connected. The violence we inflict on the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and all the others is the same violence inflicted on the poorest among us. It’s the same violence we do to our ecosystems; to other species, to the rivers, to the oceans, to the mineral earth, to air itself.
    What this photo drives home is that the people missing from the image, the evicted ones, are unaccounted for by our most brilliant economists. They are hunted by the police, but only (so genteel!) as a formality. And we are like them. We are the system’s externalities, just like the kids at that wedding in Afghanistan. We are the costs unaccounted for, like that coal ash spill in Tennessee.
    We must demand a better accounting.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p01053714e4e4970b Karen H.

    It’s a war, but one against a passive and shamed adversary. And it’s a slow death, you go from owning to renting (if you’re lucky) and you’re too busy working two jobs to replace the one you’ve lost and too embarrassed explaining your circumstances and too freaked out to grab a pitchfork and head down to the bank. But I’m beginning to think folks should do just that.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p01053714e4e4970b Karen H.

    I tried to edit this in, but waiting too long:
    It’s fitting that the “other side,” the former homeowner, is absent. I’m struck by the symbol of police as the tool of the bank (by extension), much like soldiers going house to house in Iraqi neighborhoods were the tool of the government that got us into to the war. The odd thing is, the policeman’s got friends who have lost jobs, houses, benefits. He’s lucky to be working.

  • http://www.fightingliberals.com Hubris Sonic

    Why did he pull his weapon?

  • http://www.fightingliberals.com Hubris Sonic

    During the depression mobs of people would go to their neighbors auctions and intimidate everyone into not bidding and then buy the place for a nickel or whatever and then give the deed back to their neighbor.

  • Kevin

    My impression from the photo was of a drug raid, which I suppose involves a war of sorts. But certainly not the traditional sense of war. That puts me on the side that does not agree with the jury’s view.

  • kenjutsu

    Offossapup in/ec/static pursuit of an ideal
    Which waits/lies behind the green door…

  • Harold Pomeroy

    One way the war comes to the US is through the police. This cop might be an Iraq vet, and doing a weapons search in a home could be a fairly stressful event. Evictions can be difficult for the police, too. Too bad he doesn’t have one of the boneheads who de-regulated the financial system as a human shield.
    This picture works, because the cop is threatened, and threatening, at the same time. The content is strong, and the composition, too. I would like to hear some analysis of the composition from Mr. Bag. I haven’t seen so many lines and arrows lately.
    Harold Pomeroy

  • http://profile.typepad.com/TeresaNBlaurock Books Alive

    The Cook County, Illinois, sheriff’s deputies broke into this unit early one September morning in 2008. The owner had a dreadful record with payments and was very much in arrears, but the sheriff needn’t have broken in as they did because the key was available from the condo property manager. The contents were removed to the sidewalk, but didn’t remain there long. The commotion of the break-in upset an elderly woman living across from this unit, as reported by her son.
    Sheriff's deputies broke in here
    As these forced entries take place, the unsettling effect ripples out to neighbors in the building or community.

  • http://www.errolmorris.com/content/interview/stopsmiling0306.html yg

    well, it’s called class warfare for a reason. this is one of the consequences. it’s not just an abstract debate.

  • http://www.errolmorris.com/content/interview/stopsmiling0306.html yg

    also reminds me of the ghandi line: poverty is the worst form of violence.
    the physical upheaval one can see, only suggests the emotional toll that lies underneath the surface.

  • JayDenver

    I wondered why the officer had his weapon drawn and discovered in the slide show that his fear is not of the previous tenants, but of “squatters” (dispossessed, homeless, unemployed ?) who may have taken up residence in the building. I note that squatters are lumped in with drug dealers and junkies in the slide show captions.

  • demit

    I see a police action. As other commenters pointed out, we are familiar with the image from a multitude of cop shows. I would not have made the connection to war imagery. The figure is not a soldier. Yes, finding out that this was part of an eviction makes it poignant, but we are told that it is a routine precaution in that municipality, so I think the “war in its classic sense” statement by Ms. Golon is hyperbolic. I don’t even know what she means by it (or what for that matter she thinks a double entendre is).
    I’m also skeptical of the dramatic pose struck by the deputy, who knew he was with a photographer. A little chewing of the scenery there, I think. We aren’t told whether or not the homeowners are present; I’m assuming they aren’t because wouldn’t the photographer have preferred the drama of that confrontation, the drama of THAT shot?
    I would have felt the drama of innocent people’s lives being cruelly disrupted if the house looked like it was still being lived in. As it is, the trash-strewn floor tells me these people are long gone. Thus it is a scene not so different from any other eviction at any other time—but we are asked to impart special meaning to it because of the times we are in.
    That said, I did feel a dread upon seeing the image because I have an uneasy feeling about a stepped-up police state to come. Especially after reading a few months ago about the army brigade recently posted back home whose mission it will be to deal with domestic unrest.

  • http://www.errolmorris.com/content/interview/stopsmiling0306.html yg

    wingers are full of froth, blaming the economic meltdown on the poor and working class, often a racially tinged attack, while scapegoating blame on chris dodd and barney frank. they need to be reminded it was lenders and brokers who rewarded agents with large bonuses for coercing people into supbrime loans. even people with good credit. you can’t blame dems for corporate greed.
    The Wall Street Journal reported in 2006 that 61 percent of all borrowers receiving subprime loans had credit scores high enough to qualify for prime conventional loans.[1]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subprime_lending

  • http://profile.typepad.com/vcInCA vcInCA

    I agree with Nigel, that the picture fails (and the jurors failed). We all are seeing so many things in the picture, but are drawing from Michael’s commentary & from the pics description & analysis, and then linking them to our own experiences and other images and stories we’ve read. But if it had been posted here sans any text, where would our thoughts have gone? If a photo is to be powerful, it must speak for itself, not rely on the text surrounding and supporting it.
    however, a few thoughts on the verbal/visual juxtaposition. it was taken in March 2008, when this foreclosure stuff wasn’t at the forefront of our attention, wasn’t quite ‘happening’ yet, to most of us. and, to me, its not capturing ‘daily life’–its capturing an extreme of this, in that copper has his gun drawn-that doesn’t seem (to me, perhaps i’m just naive) to be a normal way of checking a house. i hope/guess? that something made the cop wary, and because of that, he drew his gun and assumed this more cautious posture. lastly, capturing the most extreme, potentially dangerous but overwhelmingly dehumanizing moments of a foreclosure also encourages us to see & interpret foreclosures in a more polarized fashion, i think.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/Rapier rapier

    Shouldn’t the best photo jounalism picture not need the context supplied by words? Who could guess this is about a foreclosure? It is interesting that it is but it will never be obvious. Never a self contained context. Now maybe I am wrong that the photo journalism prize picture should supply it’s own context. That it is usually or always associated with the story. Even if so I will guess never has one been so lacking in context.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/bagnews Michael Shaw (The BAG)

    At the theater last night, I saw a trailer for the new Terminator movie. It offered a post-apocalytic world mostly destroyed by war and still ridden with violence. The explosions and aggression made my skin crawl as I thought how weary I am now of war. Along the lines of vInCA’s point (seeking to place the judging of the photo in time), I was convinced the beginning of the Obama era (Afghanistan not withstanding) was going to mark a paradigmatic shift. The fact the war analogy seems to either miss the mark (or feel dated) reflects that we’re not in Bushland anymore.
    Regarding the photo, I like that I can’t tell for sure what the officer is pointing. I like that he has a flat top. Looking at whatever is hanging up high on the wall to the left of the kitchen, I keep thinking of a surveillance camera. Given my intense desire for some normality after Bush, I’m sorry to say this image (maybe because it suggests the ghostly presence of others, maybe because of theTwilight Zone hint to it) seems to evoke paranoia.
    (By the way, I’ve been enjoying how many of you have been thoughtfully integrating images into the discussions. Books Alive, that’s a nice contribution.)

  • http://www.errolmorris.com/content/interview/stopsmiling0306.html yg

    looking through the world press photo site of competing entries, there were other photos that were much more dramatic, much more vivid. i wondered why this one was picked over the others. only after contrasting did it hit me how flat and unsentimental this scene is presented. perhaps that is the point.
    there are sectors of society who react dispassionately to such scenes. and as foreclosures become more commonplace, people grow more inured to it. whatever
    negative reactions, or discomfort, this photo may of provoked (sometimes that’s the point) there is no denying it’s a statement of the times and culture we are living in.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p011278dc63ca28a4 philoking

    The officer seems to be “Barney Fife” like in his stance moving through the house given the way he’s holding his weapon. Were it not for the written description, I’d think he is an uneasy rookie making his way through a crime scene.

  • Linda

    I see it as the intrusive arm of the law, not a war image. And I wonder, who trashed the house?

  • Augie

    I await the award winning photo of armed police entering the homes of SEC staff members, CEO’s, bankers, Wall Street-ers, hedge fund managers, GW’s cabinet appointees and the plethora of ponzi schemers – who one and all blamed their clients and the working citizenry for the economic collapses curried under deregulating the laws that protected all of us from the criminals among their ranks.
    Not holding breath for that ‘award winning’ photo.

  • Jack

    I’ve noticed that some posters have said that the image fails and the jurors fail because it’s not “war”. The conceptual problem that you’re having is that (and I’m making a bit of an assumption here) most people outside the US see class war as war, just as much (and generally more so) than other “wars” like the war on drugs etc. This is in part because of history… class war has a much more violent history in Europe dating back to the Dark Ages and up until just a decade or so ago… and there is a recognition that the state engages in class warfare just as much as other actors do.
    This picture was used because it clearly shows the class war that is ongoing and gaining in ferocity in the US as the upper classes protect their property, privileges, and perquisites from damage (to the extent possible) in the financial crisis that is gripping your country. It is part of the ongoing efforts to ensure that they remain the upper classes at the end of your country’s troubles…

  • joe shikspack

    The shock troops of capitalism wear many uniforms.
    The current war, a war that will continue for the foreseeable future, is a difficult one to be sure. It is a global war fought on many battlefields against determined foes. The enemy resorts to demanding higher wages than we prefer, failing to sell their resources on terms favorable to us and the tactics of pure shiftlessness if all else fails. Our enemies fight ruthlessly against our new world order and our financial demands.
    The war is fought on many battlefields from the teeming ghettoes of the third world to the living rooms of middle class americans.

  • Bert

    The mattress on the floor bespeaks squatters. Drug users/dealers are quick to make use of vacant dwellings. When they get desparate, they have been known to rip out furnishings (toilets, sinks) to sell. A recent spate of stolen copper piping is more evidence of the havoc resulting from unemployment and evictions.
    This photo may depict an overly agressive cop, but I suspect a neighbor has reported strange noises or activity within the house and the cop doesn’t know what lies beyong his flashlight/gun/laser.
    Evidence of the former inhabitant are the empty picture frames left behind, the books, the chairs that were too bulky for the pickup.

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