Mike Tyson once said "Everybody's got plans...until they get hit." And while some might not think of Tyson as a particularly prophetic individual, I'd challenge them to find a more fitting way to describe Kirk Crippens's photographs of Stockton, California, which has been called the epicenter of the housing crisis.
Stockton is a nice town (twice awarded the All-America City Award by the National Civic League). Being relatively inexpensive and within commuting distance to Sacramento and San Francisco made it prime real estate for speculators cashing in on the housing boom, and swathes of planned communities sprung up around the city. Two years ago, the same qualities left Stockton vulnerable; when the housing bubble popped, 1 in 27 Stockton homes ended up in foreclosure.
Kirk Crippens's photographs chronicle the economic crisis at the most personal level, as it reverberates through the daily lives of Californians. The photographs in Foreclosure, USA, taken during 2008 and 2009, feature the dissolution of planned communities: sidewalks abruptly dead-ending into dirt; the detritus left behind by squatters in foreclosed houses; swimming pools, empty except for a puddle of yellow scum and rings of dirt.
Photo: Kirk Crippens
Gallery info states Crippens was inspired by the famous documentary photographs of the dustbowl, but to me, the analogy doesn't exactly work: when I think of most famous dustbowl photographs by artists like Dorthea Lange and Walker Evans, I think of the faces of migrant workers and sharecroppers. Crippens's photographs are different: they are gorgeous images that manage to capture the affective landscape of human emotion in upheaval, without ever including a single person on film. He does this by shooting emptied homes: abandoned by owners, repossessed by banks, and gutted by looters. The object is the same though: the Farm Security Administration hired photographers to show the human side of the dustbowl to people who weren't directly experiencing it; Crippens's project, funded in part by grants from SFMOMA, the Sierra Club, and the Museum of African Diaspora, functions similarly.
I went to the SFMOMA Artists Gallery on a rainy Thursday night for the opening of Foreclosure USA (which is in the "Loft Gallery"), but was surprised to find another show, Infix, opening in the main gallery. In grammar, an "infix" refers to a suffix or prefix inserted into the middle of a word, changing the tense or the subject/object relationship. Infixes aren't typically used in English (though they are common in Tagalog, Latin and Arabic) but they are becoming more common in modern parlance. Examples include Snoop Dogg's in the "hizzouse," and Sex and the City's Mr. Big's "abso-f@#*ing-lutely."
Infix features a number of Bay Area artists, Renée Billingslea, E. G. Crichton, Lisa R. Gould, Willie Little, Lewis Watts, and a collective called BARRIONICS, and posits their work, and the Bay Area arts, as an infix in the global arts scene. Some of the work, Lewis Watt's documentary photography of Louisiana and New York and Renée Billingslea's project repurposing historical photographs of a lynch mob, sit well alongside Foreclosure, USA.
Photo: Lewis Wattss
The most pleasant surprise was E.G. Crichton's large-scale digital prints, made by combining household chemicals on plates of glass. While the component materials (Betadine, Palmolive, Comet, and Ex-Lax, to name a few) could be found in any given American home, the images produced from the combination have a distinctly other-worldly feel. They look like alien images shot from extreme Hubble Space Telescope-distance.
Photo: E.G. Chrichton
While I secretly wish that there had been more room for Crippens's photographs, Infix was a pleasant interruption of my plans...and if Crippens's work illustrates anything, it is that things don't always work out as planned.
Infix: The Grammar of Insertion and Foreclosure USA are on display at the SFMOMA Artists Gallery at Ft. Mason in San Francisco through March 12, 2010. For more information visit sfmoma.org.