In a world awash in real-estate photography, Ross Sawyers's work is like property counter-advertising. He builds exacting models of real estate developments, and lights and photographs them in his studio. No one is ever inside. You easily project yourself in.
At Platform Gallery this month, Sawyers has a show of new works titled The Jungle.
He didn't know about Seattle's "Jungle" when he made them. More on that real-world "Jungle" in a sec.
Sawyers graduated from the University of Washington's photography program in 2007, just before the bottom dropped out of the U.S. economy and the foreclosure and housing crisis began to explode. (He now lives in Chicago and teaches at Columbia College Chicago.) In the decade since, his work has developed in tandem with the arc of development, speculation, and despair about housing across the United States, which is especially acute this year in Seattle.
Early on, Sawyers created pictures of interiors that looked pristine, in a state of just-finished new construction. But in these interiors, developers had made crazy decisions: windows opening onto walls, doors that went nowhere. Plastic tarps blew in a chilling wind in these lonely rooms.
Later, Sawyers built model homes that had been abandoned and disfigured, as many foreclosed homes have. Their dark walls were slashed. Scars of light came streaming through. Those slashed marks were the symbols used by itinerant Americans in the Depression to communicate about places to sleep and to rest.
Now, for the first time, Sawyers has made buildings with no way in. All of these new works at the gallery this month are exteriors. There aren't unblocked doors, or windows. You're stuck outside.
Meanwhile, Seattle City Council members are debating whether to use $1 million in state money to build an 8,000-foot, 3-mile-long razor-wire fence around Seattle's Jungle, the homeless encampment beneath I-5 near Beacon Hill. Lorena González and Reuven Carlyle debate about it on the new Blabbermouth.
Sawyers didn't know that certain Seattle art institutions are pledging to focus on issues of housing and homelessness this year, so his work is a surprise addition to a slate of exhibitions and conversations that inevitably end with the question: What do we do?
If that happens, then in August we will have the chance to tell the City that we're willing to pay $120 rather than $60 each, per year, to help fight so that not only the wealthy can live in Seattle. Sixty extra dollars per year.
Or more of this.