Ross Sawyers’s ‘Nothing Doing Here’ is at Platform. Courtesy of the artist and platform gallery

Ross Sawyers began with the simple observation that the newly constructed housing he was seeing delivered a shock of cognitive dissonance: It was bright, cheerful—and feeble. That was in 2007. Bright, cheerful, poorly made housing was going up all over the University District and other parts of Seattle; Sawyers was here getting his MFA in photography at the University of Washington. His 2007 photographs of empty, pre-lived-in rooms are pretty and eerie. They looked like they knew what was about to happen.

Sawyers moved to Chicago for a teaching gig at Columbia College, but he's shown every two years like clockwork at Platform Gallery in Seattle. Added up, those four shows are four chapters of a Great American Novel about real estate and photography, and those descriptors can be scrambled in various ways that still describe what he's wrought: stately, fake American photography; estate photography for (dead) Great American realities. What you see is, first, a house badly built and ready to be moved into (Divided Spaces, 2007); next, a house shrouded and then abandoned (Contained Within, 2009, and Dismantled Rooms, 2011); and, finally, in the new exhibition This Is the Place, a house not inhabited by anybody at all, stripped of everything, bearing only scratched codes on the walls left by hoboes. Nobody lives here anymore; they just pass through.

Back in 2007, Sawyers would go to open houses on Sundays posing as a would-be buyer to do research. He'd go back to his studio, build dioramas of the rooms, elaborately light them, and print large photographs. Later, since nobody was hosting open houses for foreclosed-on properties, Sawyers's images became more imagined and imaginary.

In 2009, he introduced the first evidence of an outside-world infiltration in the pre-lived-in rooms: A pile of dirt appeared inside, unexplained. In 2011, a sunny room dominated by a bright yellow circle of light did not have its own sun, it just had an ugly circular tear in one wall—Sawyers twisting the knife in the warm, light-filled space of real-estate porn.

This Is the Place is glam. It's a black-metal, lens-flare phantasmagoria. Sawyers is shooting in color, but the palette is mostly black and white, with the exceptions of those luminescent flares. There's one untitled photograph, the only one that doesn't contain code, no hobo symbol. It's just a spotlight shot at a black wall. The wall has that orange-peel texture, and the bright light silverizes and caresses every stupid little groove, blowing them all up big, an ugly situation yielding a sarcastically pretty picture. Not all the pictures are so sarcastic. Some are downright bad pictures, like the ones hastily shot by banks when they list foreclosed-on properties. Some look almost like drawings. The works raise questions about poverty porn and offer no easy answers. Their reliance on black-and-white toys with the documentary tradition.

Is it obnoxious, righteous, or some unholy combination of the two for hobo codes to appear in the white cube of an art space in 2013? The emotional tenor of these new pictures is rage—they're artier and angrier than Sawyers's prior stuff, and more potent for it. Who's the angry party? The hobo code in Dishonest House is a curved blade, meaning a dishonest person lives here. Sawyer has it so it's almost invisible—scratched out of a layer of paint, then covered over with a layer of that same paint so it's camouflaged. The symbol doesn't speak, it just glares. recommended