Model Homes

I read a quote from a magazine editor recently, that mentioned the fact that not many artists are creating work about the current housing crisis. She was speaking from the frame of reference of someone who needs topical content for her magazine, but it made me wonder – why aren’t more artists referencing what’s going on, right here and right now? And on a personal level, why aren’t I? It’s definitely impacted me personally and professionally. You can’t really get away from it in the inland parts of Southern California. If there’s anyplace where you’d think you could find art about the the housing market, it’s here.

That’s not to say that just because we’re here and it’s obvious, that Southern California artists have some kind of obligation to go out and make art about foreclosures! But at the same time, how can you avoid it, when it’s such a big part of the culture in the area?

My conviction, the more I thought about it, was that sometimes it takes time for an issue or a feeling or a problem to sink into my consciousness deeply enough, for art to result. Other times that process is almost instantaneous – in 2004 I remember getting back after a major wild fire that almost claimed my home, and immediately reaching for my camera, and going out to create art out of the ruins around my neighborhood. But it’s not always that fast. Art comes from feeling and emotion – obviously – but what if you don’t know how you feel? This isn’t just an economic downturn, it’s not just the almost 14% unemployment in the county I live in, and it’s not just a bunch of empty, abandoned houses – it’s a lot of hurt people. People I know and love have been hurt. Loss is everywhere. So yeah, my feelings run deep on this, and that’s obviously the place where art *can* start…

So I decided to do an exercise. I shot some abandoned model homes, just to do it. To see where it led. I had no expectations, and nothing pre-conceived. I just wanted to go and see what happened. The results are maybe a little shiny, happy, glossy – but that’s okay – it’s part of my nature to find the serious *and* the beauty in everything I shoot. And I think that even though the images are beautiful, there is something off about each one – and in a way that’s more jarring than just flat out going for desperation and abandonment. Those feelings are there, but they’re the twist, not the main event.

A few notes on the location – it was in Winchester, California, at an abandoned housing development. Only a half-dozen model homes were built, and each one is still labeled with it’s model number. There’s evidence of a stream with river rock banks that used to run through the front yard of the main office, with a little bridge to cross it. There’s a sign pointing to the bathrooms. There was landscaping at one time, but the trees were cut down – who knows why? The turf has died, but the sprinkler heads are still there. Every single window and door was carefully and very thoroughly covered with thick plywood – no one has been in those homes since the sales people moved out. There is no graffiti at all, except for the spray painted note you see on the garage door in the first image.

It’s a really lovely location, and while I don’t like modern homes like these (I’m an old house lover!), I can’t imagine a better location. There’s a rock foothill right in the middle of the track, and the roads were built around it, so the neighborhood would have been really pleasant to live in.

And finally, I have to say something about the future. What you have to know is that this is Southern California. There is great demand to live here. Give us time, and these houses will have owners, and families will move in, and the idyllic location will not be wasted. There’s really no such thing as an abandoned house in Southern California, there’s just houses that are between owners.

Maybe I’ll come back in a year or two and shoot the same houses, from the same angles, when the grass is green, and the windows and doors are uncovered, and when there’s life in the streets.

Model Homes // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Model Homes // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsModel Homes // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Model Homes // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Model Homes // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsStreet Signs Are Up // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Bright Blue Sky and Puffy White Clouds // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Sidewalk to Nowhere // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Chain Link Cross // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Bright Shiny Future // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

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