Gardens of Things: a Prospectus
We have learned to look at compulsive hoarding through the lens of psychology. We regard it, rightly, as a disease that millions of Americans (including several members of my family) suffer from; but the urge to collect and retain stuff is more than that. It is an environmental phenomenon as well as a psychological one. It has made us aware of an altogether new kind of landscape: a personal, indoor garden of things.
Like the gardens we find in medieval tapestries and paintings, these new kinds of garden are walled enclosures, shelters from the chaos outside. Unlike typical gardens, however, these indoor refuges are not entirely the result of conscious culling. A collecting habit sustained over many years is a process akin to the action of tectonic plates or great rivers on the natural landscape. The physical forces that fold the Earth's crust into mountains resemble the psychological forces that compel us to acquire and hoard. The living spaces we create out of the things we buy are our Yosemites and Yellowstones.
I hope that by looking at people's homes this way -- through the lens of geology -- I will be able to show that our collections are more than mere piles of stuff: they are the outgrowths of our very selves. Our gardens of things bear the imprints of our private hopes and fears. They are personalized landscapes.
I use a large-format film camera of the sort traditionally used by western landscape photographers. It can take several minutes to expose a single negative and several hours of darkroom work to make a single finished print. I use this old-school rig because it embodies a certain way of looking that I find valuable: a more deliberate and intense way of looking. I wouldn't object to an analogy between what I do and the "slow food" movement. Furthermore, I hope that the traditional process I employ makes it apparent that these photographs of living spaces are intended not only as documents, but also as landscapes.
I plan to make photographs in the homes of people who have given me their explicit permission to do so. It generally takes me 2-3 hours to shoot all of the film I can carry on my person; 2 or 3 such trips are usually sufficient to explore an average-sized home. If the homeowner declares a part of the home off-limits, I will respect her wishes. The images will be identified only by city and state to ensure the anonymity of each subject. I will never divulge the identity of any participant.
It is extremely important to me that I do not in any way embarrass, exploit, or otherwise harm any of the people who are open-minded and brave enough to let me into their homes. How do I square this with the fact that I ultimately plan to exhibit the photographs? You may rest assured that I am not in it for the money: black-and-white film photography gets less lucrative by the year. I am in it to promulgate the truth -- that piles of stuff have a strange and largely misunderstood beauty -- and I must go wherever that mission takes me.
If you would like to participate in my project, or if you have any questions about it, please write to me. Feel free to check out some of my previous photograph work using the tabs at the top of this page. Finally, if you have successfully conquered your clutter, you have my congratulations -- you have succeeded where millions have failed.
- Everitt Clark