Nathan in the summer of 2010

One of the best parts about my new home in Hemet is that it comes with a garage that faces the North. That may not mean much to most people, but as an artist the words “Northern Light” make me all feel all tingly inside.

What’s so special about Northern Light? Well picture the globe, spinning on it’s axis… No, that’s way too complicated.

Okay, picture yourself at home, and note the position of the sun at different times of the day. In the morning the sun is obviously in the east and at sunset it’s in the west. Easy. But there’s more to it! Depending on where you are in the world, the sun is also a little to the south or a little north of you – just a little – all day long – but it’s an important distinction.

Since I’m in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is usually a little south – so the plants on the southern side of my house get more sun and the plants on the northern side get more shade. Fairly basic stuff, right? But, that’s not the fun part – the fun begins if you have a window on the northern side of your house – I call it make everybody beautiful light! No direct light at all – just lots of soft light bouncing around outside and illuminating the subject. Beautiful!

And if you have a garage facing north, and you raise the garage door? That’s like a big huge natural softbox, only better.

The only thing I like better is a garage facing west… You can get the golden glow of late afternoon, but because you’re under a big roof, there’s no direct sun, and so no squinting – it’s really really beautiful. But, the drawback with western light is that it’s not quite as flattering as northern light.

My nephew Nathan spent a little time in California on his summer vacation, and he volunteered to help me test in my studio/garage space.

Nathan // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Can you believe that light?! Beautiful! And Nathan is beautiful as well. When I saw this image, I felt like it’s a glimpse of the man he will become. He looks soooo mature here!

We also shot a little out in Winchester Valley, just for fun – and I’ll post those here as well. It was a fun day!

Nathan // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsNathan // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Nathan in Winchester, California. // 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