14 October 2010

House Where Nobody Lives

From: Interiors (Foreclosed Homes) © Todd Hido.

The other day The New York Times ran this column and an accompanying slide show on photographers who have sought to document economic crisis in the past and of folks who are trying to do so with our current disaster. The strategy among those working today seems to be to concentrate on houses rather than people. The hope, it seems, is to generalize away from the plight of this or that particular person or family. That strikes me as an interesting approach. In any case, it brings to mind this song:
House Where Nobody Lives
Tom Waits

There's a house on my block
That's abandoned and cold
Folks moved out of it a
Long time ago
And they took all their things
And they never came back
Looks like it's haunted
With the windows all cracked
And everyone call it
The house, the house where
Nobody lives

Once it held laughter

Once it held dreams
Did they throw it away
Did they know what it means
Did someone's heart break
Or did someone do somebody wrong?

Well the paint was all cracked

It was peeled off of the wood
Papers were stacked on the porch
Where I stood
And the weeds had grown up
Just as high as the door
There were birds in the chimney
And an old chest of drawers
Looks like no one will ever
Come back to the
House were nobody lives

Once it held laughter

Once it held dreams
Did they throw it away
Did they know what it means
Did someone's heart break
Or did someone do someone wrong?

So if you find someone
Someone to have, someone to hold
Don't trade it for silver
Don't trade it for gold
I have all of life's treasures
And they are fine and they are good
They remind me that houses
Are just made of wood
What makes a house grand
Ain't the roof or the doors
If there's love in a house
It's a palace for sure
Without love...
It ain't nothin but a house
A house where nobody lives
Without love it ain't nothin
But a house, a house where
Nobody lives
Of course, in our current crisis the question "did someone do somebody wrong?" has a more complex and different implication than Waits likely intends. And while there is lots of heartbreak, it is caused by forces well beyond personal family hardships. Criminal perhaps?

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Blogger Beth E. said...

Hi Jim,

All those empty houses reminded me of a Martha Rosler work from 1974-75, "The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems", in which she displays pictures of spots along the Bowery (no people, only empty booze bottles, etc) alongside lists of words associated with getting/being drunk.
Rosler, of course, is famously critical of the 'liberal documentary' mode of photography, and this was one of her responses to it.
Just a bit of food for thought!

15 October, 2010 08:01  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Yes, the interesting shift in reality is that destitution and homelessness have moved from "skid row" to the suburbs!

15 October, 2010 09:43  
Blogger Walter Dufresne said...

If the photographs' subject is the abandoned domestic interiors of the formerly middle class, well, that's a great idea the Times's editors have. It's a great idea (conveyable in words) for more funding, for more reporting. As far as photography is concerned, it's an idea that gets us all the way to making photographs that are useful and halfway to making photographs that are good.

But, as a reader and viewer and old-fashioned New Deal Democrat, I'm stuck with what I can read and view. And -- so far anyway -- the usual FSA suspects (Evans and Lange and Lee) dominate here. Their works were both more frighteningly beautiful *and* more useful to reform than anything the Times shows us. I intend no snark, but Stryker at FSA was incomparably better and more useful for advancing a progressive agenda than Sulzberger at NYT will ever be. I'd joke that Stryker exemplifies a government bureaucrat outperforming the private sector.

17 October, 2010 08:44  

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