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February 12, 2012

The Great Recession in Moore Depth

(click for larger size)

Looking for photographs that tackle the brutal recession, the mortgage crisis and the “Two Americas,” one of the first names that comes to mind — for eloquence as well as diligence — is Getty’s John Moore. John  has been exploring the massive upheaval caused by the economic crisis from the start. His photographs have gotten notice here (and here)  and at many other websites and publications.  This past Friday, in fitting recognition of his work, he won a World Press Photo award for a series of photographs documenting Colorado families being forced from their foreclosed homes.

In one of the most striking photos of the collection, a baby looks on while two members of an “eviction team” carefully remove family mementos above his head.  Disney pervades the room adjoining a 1970s style kitchen that belies the myth of irresponsible McMansion buyers getting what they deserve. Moore captures the  care the “team” is using. It serves to evoke empathy for both the evictee and those tasked with carrying out the removal.  Looking at the man’s odd hat, back support, freebie t-shirt, you could imagine he, too, might only be one or two paychecks away from the same future. The same quality pervades another photo in the set as a policeman empathizes with a crying woman about to get kicked out.  It reminds the viewer that, in all of these situations, it is one’s peers, not the bankers who hold the note, physically putting the family on the street.  Moore captures the sympathy; shares the pain.

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The final photograph in the World Press series depicts the end of this process at a home in Centennial, Colorado. The family’s possessions are deposited on the front grass with just enough order and organization to compound the owner’s sense of shock and disbelief. Once familiar with John Moore’s “Great Recession”  photos, one thing you come to appreciate in this final act –in someone’s “whole life” out on the street — is the pathos in the possessions. Like an early bird at a garage sale, you start to navigate your way through the objects and details. From the collection of crutches to the scattered lamp shades, from that monochromatic photo of a scrawny, lonely and seemingly fog-enshrouded tree (is that a dog lower left?) to the tear in Old Glory, these photos will break your heart.

Finally, focusing on the billowing flag, it absorbs so much tension between the doleful possessions and the woman’s “what now?” stance,  it stands to emblematize how the country itself is flying backwards.

— Karen Hull and Michael Shaw

(photos: John Moore)

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