August 18, 2007

Renaissance From The Inside

This is the third of three posts featuring photographer Alan Chin’s images from FEMA’s Renaissance Trailer Park in Louisiana.  The theme of this post is "interior space."

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In my mind, what Alan Chin accomplishes with his Renaissance series is to bring a sense of humanity and individuality to the residents of this forsaken FEMA complex.  What I’m wondering about, however, at least with these interior images, is the trade-off with the physical impoverishment of the place.

Take Bonnie and Larry, for example, whose living quarters provide our primary view inside these vehicular shacks.

Witnessing Larry as "homeowner," peering down the way from his front door, taking in this powerful and complex personal moment between the couple sitting side-by-side; and witnessing Bonnie in an intimate moment with her dog, it seems Chin’s storytelling skill (with its allusions to more conventional domesticity) actually overrides, if not overwhelms the assessment of life in a tin can.

I find the same heartening effect in the scene of the man with the guitar.  Only by benefit of Alan’s explanation does a harder edge emerge.  He writes:  "He wanted to get a job playing at a church, but besides being borderline mentally ill, he was not much of a player."

An important thing Alan has done in these "indoor" scenes is to show more than just housing units.  The man with the guitar is in the laundry shed which he he seeks out, he says, for the quiet space.   The man in the doorway is picking his son up from the daycare spot.  Rosie O’Donnell paid to have it built and the YWCA pays the salaries of the workers there.

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Like stories with opposite intentions, however, not all of Alan’s "inside" photos are so personal.

Consider the picture of the kitchen space which is losing the battle with order.  Even more evocative, however, is the shot of the baby room inside the daycare center.  The cribs and the figures in perfect line with each other reflect the mindless, bureaucratically-authored linearity and rectangularity just outside.  Add in the remoteness and lethargy of the caretaker, and the abject isolation of the baby inside the circle, and we’re reminded how cruel it is to invoke the idea of Renaissance.

(Alan wishes to express special thanks to Jennifer Warren, who provided invaluable assistance in the creation of these images.)

(Previous Chin New Orleans posts at The BAG: Renaissance Clash (9/17/07); Renaissance Village From The Outside (8/16/07); The Katrina Landscape (5/3/06); St. Rita Ongoing (10/8/05);  And Then I Saw These (9/27/05).  All images courtesy of Alan Chin.  Louisiana. 2007.  Posted by permission.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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