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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.

(click for full size)

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)

  • Anonymous

    The uniform, gun, gloves, give this tableau a CSI crime scene cast. And it may be if Linda Green supplied the eviction docs.

    Is the gendarme just pitching in or is now a part of the job? 

  • bks

    Isn’t all that crap going to fall on the kid in the playpen?  Most people would move the playpen first.  Oh, well, the kid may end up in the refuse heap, too.


  • quincyscott

    Many people seem to think that because poor Americans have so much stuff, they can’t really be poor.  These photos blow a hole through that notion.

    • karen h

      Another point to ponder…many of those who have lost homes or are losing them are/were the middle class or the newly poor. The number of possessions may not be a reliable indicator of their actual economic class. On the other hand, people of all classes in the US (except the homeless) have a lot of possessions.

  • tinwoman

    Crutches in the second photo–somebody in that family was sick or injured.  Many foreclosures follow a set of unmanageable medical bills.

    The new flat screen TV in the first photo–no, it would not be something I would personally purchase when I couldn’t pay my other bills.  But,I have learned over the years that people will do a lot of strange things in an attempt to “feel normal”, and it’s cruel to expect people to live like mice in a hole in the ground just because they don’t have a lot of steady money.

    • Guest

       We cannot know how long that family owned that TV.  It could have been a gift; it could have been a second-hand purchase; or it could have been purchased while employed, believing in a happier future.  I’m uncomfortable second guessing a family in this tragic circumstance.   But I agree with everything else you wrote.

  • stanco55

    “The New Face Of Homelessness” v the old…

    They’re getting harder and harder to ignore- from big city, to outlying suburbia, to the very heartland- just make sure you don’t face a mirror when you look away…

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