Eleven months after Brandie Barbiere stopped paying the mortgage on her Milliken, Colo., home, her husband found out when he returned from work to see their possessions piled on the front lawn. As a sheriff's deputy supervised the Oct. 5, 2011, eviction, he confronted his wife and wrestled with his anger. A few minutes later he spotted photographer John Moore. "Who the hell are you?" the husband exclaimed.
"I said I was very sorry this was happening and that I was taking some pictures to show what people all around the country were going through," Moore recalled. "And he let me stay."
Moore is one of a small cadre of photographers who have set out to record the life-altering event of a foreclosure, which sometimes is climaxed by an eviction lasting at most two hours. Moore's pictures and those of 10 other photographers (see slideshow below) form a new exhibit, "Foreclosed: Documents from the American Housing Crisis," at the Alice Austen House on New York City's Staten Island, which held its opening reception earlier this month.
This is the second New York City museum to tackle the subject this year. In February, Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art opened "Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream," exploring architectural solutions for five foreclosure-ridden suburbias.
To Carl Rutberg, executive director of the Alice Austen House, the show seemed apt for a museum honoring the legacy of a pioneering 19th-century woman photographer in her former home, which she lost to foreclosure because of financial reverses in the Great Depression.
Since 2009, Moore has photographed hundreds of evictions in Colorado. "Everybody had a different story," he said. "Some people had lost their jobs and could no longer make their mortgage payments."
Barbiere's foreclosure was triggered by the shrinking of her child care business. Other homeowners had assumed balloon mortgages whose rates readjusted to levels they could not afford. And then there's Tracy Munch, whom Moore photographed on Feb. 2, 2009, in Colorado's Adams County. Although she paid her rent faithfully, Moore said, her family was evicted because her landlord had stopped paying the mortgage.
Moore immersed himself in the world of foreclosures after a three-year posting for Getty Images in Islamabad. He returned to a United States besieged by recession and wanted to chronicle one of the causes: the bursting of the real estate bubble. "The struggle was trying to get access to the actual moment when people were being evicted from their homes," he said.
Since Colorado's foreclosures are supervised by sheriff's deputies, he found four counties that would let him accompany those officials during evictions. "It was, of course, very delicate," he said, adding, "I tried to not get into people's faces. I tried to give them a little space."
Moore, who recently won a World Press Photo award for his work on the subject, said he would not shoot those "who would want me gone."
The goal of the exhibit is "to look at this aspect of the recession and how it was recorded by various photographers, whether they were photojournalists or fine art photographers," explained Paul Moakley, the museum's curator. Because he also works as Time magazine's deputy photo editor, Moakley was already familiar with many photographers specializing in the genre.
"I wanted you to experience a diverse range of people, whether they were rich or poor," said Moakley, noting that foreclosure also strikes "investors, people who had a lot of money, who could afford to build communities [and we're] seeing the remains of that."
Photographer Brian Ulrich contributed a stop-motion multimedia piece of several Cleveland houses being demolished, which also appears on Time's website. The noise of the demolition provides the soundtrack.
One of Bruce Gilden's photos shows a subdivision in arrested development, its construction frozen mid-project. Another depicts a languid swimming pool next to a foreclosed home. Yet another shows Christine Baker of Fort Myers, Fla., sleeping in a van post-foreclosure in 2008.
Lauren Greenfield, who for 15 years has tracked the exporting of the American dream and now the foreclosure crisis all over the world, contributed a photo of two homes sitting side by side, one for sale in shabby condition, the other with a verdant lawn.
A policeman told her, "You know something is wrong when the lawns are brown and pools are green," recalled her husband, Frank Evers. The couple teamed up to make the 2012 Sundance Film Festival entry, "The Queen of Versailles," about a palatial 90,000-square-foot home, financed by a fortune from a time-share business, whose construction is halted by real estate industry woes.
French artist Guillaume Zuili shot a surreal scene in muted pastels in Los Angeles' Inland Empire, lately dubbed Foreclosure Alley. "I drove for miles and miles into ghost towns, emptied gated communities, deserted malls for sale, half-built cities, roads ending in nothing ... everything had stopped," Zuili wrote.
T.J. Proechel snapped his images while working as a Minnesota foreclosure contractor after college, focusing on the themes of "loss, identity and fraud." In his photo "11th Ave., Saint Paul, MN, 2008," a foreclosed home glows spookily at twilight.
"An empty home feels haunted. It feels like the life has been completely drained from it," Moakley said.
Three photos in the exhibit deal with another photographer profoundly affected by economic crisis: Alice Austen (1866-1952), as captured by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Her father deserted her mother before she was born so Alice and her mother lived with Alice's grandparents in a Staten Island house called Clear Comfort. The original farmhouse had been built in 1690.
Austen was an unconventional woman for the late Victorian Age, traveling around on a bicycle "with 50 pounds of photographic equipment strapped to her back," said Moakley. Interested in social issues, she photographed many immigrants living on New York City's Lower East Side. Over the course of her life, she took some 8,000 images.
After Austen, who lived for decades with her lover Gertrude Tate, lost her money in the 1929 stock market crash, she mortgaged Clear Comfort. Austen struggled with finances for years. In 1945, the bank foreclosed on the house. A van pulled up and they carried her out, Rutberg said.
"The idea of growing up there and losing it all -- I think about that and all the other stories. It makes it very powerful for me," Moakley said.
Tate was taken in by her family, who wouldn't do the same for Austen. So Austen gave her negatives to the Staten Island Historical Society for safekeeping, declared herself a pauper and went to live on the Staten Island Farm Colony -- like something "out of a Dickens novel," according to Rutberg.
When Life magazine's Oliver Jensen ran across Austen's photos a few years later, he realized their historic value and tracked down Austen, then 90, at the colony. "She was an undiscovered photographer until ... Life magazine decides to do this big story on her," Moakley said. That's how in 1951, Eisenstaedt, the magazine's most famous lensman, happened to capture Austen in front of her former house.
It's a happy story, said Rutberg: An artist is recognized; one of the city's oldest homes is preserved as a museum.
A more recent image of another foreclosed Staten Island home also appears in the show. Before the exhibit, Rutberg thought, "What if kids come and their homes have been foreclosed?"
But "we decided to go ahead," he said. "They'll know they're not the only one."
'Worldly Possessions,' John Moore
Tracy Munch collects her belongings after an eviction crew cleared furniture from her foreclosed home on Feb. 2, 2009, in Colorado's Adams County. Although she paid her rent, her landlord stopped paying his mortgage. Munch managed to borrow funds to rent another place but not soon enough to avoid this.
'Eviction Team at Work,' John Moore
Chase Milam, age 1, watches from a crib as a sheriff's deputy and an eviction staffer empty his aunt's home in Milliken, Colo. Brandie Barbiere, whose child care business had declined by more than half, stopped making mortgage payments.
'Stripped Bare,' John Moore
Children sprawl on the living room floor as an eviction crew removes furniture during an Oct. 5, 2011, foreclosure in Milliken, Colo. Eleven months earlier, Brandie Barbiere had stopped paying her mortgage. The bank took possession of the property after receiving a court order.
'Foreclosed Home Interior. Pittsburgh [Area], Atlanta, GA,' Brian Shumway
Squatters may have hunkered down at Atlanta's 964 Sims St. SW, photographed by Brian Shumway in May 2009. At the time, Georgia ranked seventh in foreclosures nationwide. By the end of 2011, Georgia ranked fourth.
'Katrina, Whose Home Was in Foreclosure, Stands Outside Her Mother's Home Holding Her Daughter. Atlanta, GA,' Brian Shumway
Outside her mother's house in Atlanta's Pittsburgh neighborhood, Katrina Scott holds her daughter. This predominantly poor, black neighborhood was hard hit by foreclosures in 2009.
'11th Ave., Saint Paul, MN, 2008,' T.J. Proechel
"By the time we got to the house parts of the roof had fallen in and there was water damage all throughout the house," T.J. Proechel writes. "West St. Paul is a working class neighborhood that used to be adjacent to the large stockyards in St. Paul, which have all but disappeared."
'23rd Ave., Minneapolis, MN, 2009,' T.J. Proechel
Elsewhere in a home previously owned by a Mexican family who had moved to Minnesota, T.J. Proechel saw something unique: "The father of the family was a tiler and although it was a really simple stripped down house there was elaborate tile work all throughout it," he writes.
'Michael, Saint Paul, MN, 2009,' T.J. Proechel
When T.J. Proechel worked as a contractor, fixing up and maintaining foreclosed properties, he would also try to photograph the homes involved. His boss was Michael, shown here.
'Foreclosure Alley, Antelope Valley, California, 2009,' Guillaume Zuili
"I don't know if that lone person ... was leaving or coming in," says Guillaume Zuili. "I drove for miles and miles into ghost towns, emptied gated communities, deserted malls for sale, half-built cities, roads ending in nothing ... everything had stopped." Filming or even talking to people wasn't easy.
'Untitled,' Bruce Gilden
In Fort Myers, Fla., Bruce Gilden discovered Christine Baker living in a van in 2008. The bank had foreclosed on her house.
'Untitled,' Bruce Gilden
A swimming pool lies adjacent to a foreclosed house near Fresno, Calif., in 2010.
'Untitled,' Bruce Gilden
Outside Fresno, Calif., in 2010, Bruce Gilden found this housing development unfinished.
'Untitled' from the series 'Just a Dream,' John Francis Peters
John Peters' images focus on what's left behind "to convey the weight of the crisis at large as well as the energy/emotion I felt within each individual home," he writes. He'd spend time "quietly engaging the environment and attempted to visually bridge the physical and emotional space within."
'Untitled' from the series 'Just a Dream,' John Francis Peters
"These environmental details are fading hints from more complicated individual stories and they exist neither here nor there," John Peters writes. This "allows the viewer to engage the images in a unique way, where they may apply personal experience or creatively identify with the foreclosure crisis."
'Foreclosed Home, Inland Empire, CA,' Lauren Greenfield
Lauren Greenfield tried to capture "the surburban dream and the suburban nightmare in one image," says her husband, Frank Evers. The house for sale on the right presents a stark contrast to its neighbor in the Rosetta Canyon development in Lake Elsinore, Calif.