Not Hiring

Not Hiring, Ontario, California

I love this image! I mean, really love it! It’s so light and bright and the colors are so soft – but the subject matter is as hard as can be.

I’ve never seen a Not Hiring sign before, but I totally get why it’s necessary here. A construction project of this size on the side of the 10 Freeway is obviously going to be a huge magnet for all the unemployed construction workers in the Inland Empire. But how sad that it’s necessary! How sad that a company could be so inundated with job seekers that they need a sign to help stem the flow. Unemployment is at 15% in the Inland Empire right now – just way too high.

I’ve been playing around with the idea of a project – on the economic crisis. Not seriously pursuing it as a project, but just sort of toying around with the idea. And this image is the best of the lot so far – and the first to focus on unemployment. I’m still not sure if I want to make a full blown project out of this, but I do plan to continue playing around with it, and seeing if anything comes of it.

Crisis & Opportunity: Documenting the Global Recession

I’ve blogged before about how few artists seem to be creating work that references the current economic meltdown – but maybe that’s about to change?

In the spirit of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the New Deal in the 1930s, when photographers documented the hardship and proposed solutions, (SDN) is issuing a Call for Entries. We are looking for photo essays that provide insight into how ordinary citizens around the world are coping during these new “hard times” and how individuals, companies, industries, family businesses, communities, and governments are responding to the crisis.

One photographer will be awarded a $1,500 cash prize, and an exhibition of their work in a group show in NYC. The deadline is December 7, 2009, so not enough time for me to shoot a series worthy of entering, but I’m eager to see what does win!

More on the Housing Crisis

San Jacinto For Rent // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsLast month, after reading an article that mentioned how few artists were currently doing work that referenced the current housing crisis, I decided to go out and shoot – with absolutely no expectations. I wasn’t sure what I was after or what I was trying to say, and that was okay. It was just an exercise, and I blogged about my first attempt here.

That first attempt was shiny, happy, and glossy, which was a little surprising given the subject matter, but not totally unexpected, if you know me. And it truly was just the first attempt. If, and I do mean if, I pursue this as a full-blown project, I’m certain it will evolve, and could end up very different, once I figure out what I want to say – but I’m not in that mode yet.

Right now I’m in exploration mode, and this week that took me to San Jacinto, California and a little house for rent in the downtown area. With broken windows, a bare dirt yard, and a sign on the front door that declared it uninhabitable – poor little house!

So not quite as shiny this time. Or as happy. And certainly not glossy. But still me.

I’m still not sure where I’m going with this project – or if it’s even a project – it might just stay an exercise. It’s good to explore! Even if it leads nowhere special…

San Jacinto For Rent // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

San Jacinto For Rent // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

San Jacinto For Rent // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

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