The Humiliation Of Foreclosure

Paul Reyes reflects on the foreclosure crisis:

Documenting a foreclosure requires invasion of privacyan embarrassment shared by the sheriff’s deputy, a trash-out crew, a journalist or photographer. Having spent the last couple of years writing about this crisis myself, I can say that the embarrassment never fades. The sentiment in letters and photographs long abandoned never evaporates completely, no matter how moldered. This sense of invasion, oddly paired with an uncomfortable intimacy, is part of the voyeuristic tension of documenting the homes that people leave behindsometimes in a rush that scatters toys and trophies and love letters, sometimes with the kind of order and neatness that speaks to a stubborn pride.

But in viewing foreclosure interiors, a curious thing happens: the voyeuristic awkwardness passes, and one begins to piece together the missing characters. We already know the circumstances, generally; but why was a wallet-sized snapshot of children left behind? What left the holes in the wall? Through these questions that flit behind the scanning eye, the portraits become a kind of forensic study.

Janet Malcolm once wrote, "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse." There's some truth in that description, which doesn't make the journalist's job any less necessary, especially in times of national upheaval.