NOTOPIA features objective, frontal photographs of mobile home communities across California. Each mini-series is based within the same community. Series One, based in Half Moon Bay, is marked with particularly well-maintained homes, as the affluence, desirable cliffside property, and proximity to Silicon Valley make these homes quite expensive compared to the average mobile home price. Series Two, based in Palm Desert, also features well-maintained homes, as its occupants are mostly retirees who have the time, resources, and desire to display their personalities through their homes’ exteriors.
The mobile home lends itself to the panoramic format, within which it is possible to include the entire structure within the frame, as the large-format, 4½-foot-long print can show each individual detail and customization the owners add to their homes.
The series explores several aspects about human nature with respect to housing, "the American Dream," and personality-display.
On one hand, it considers the housing market and the mass production of the home not only as a home, such as in track housing communities, but as an object that can be transplanted throughout one’s life.
Other work that I do, in conjunction with this piece, goes further to speak about the idea of the "American Dream" in considering housing as a right. Without commenting on a specific view, the piece prompts viewers to consider the desire for every American to own a home in relation to what is or might be done in order to realize that desire – which has been, inevitably, the invention of the mass-produced home.
NOTOPIA specifically addresses this desire as a utopian ideal – the product of an idealistic mindset toward housing that creates a society constantly trying to escape the banality of its own repetition by slightly altering individual structures. With new paint, custom landscaping, and ‘yard trinkets’ constantly changing in these communities over the decades -- also dependent on the occupants of the homes who are, here, relatively unrestricted by homeowners' associations (HOAs) to which other types of track-housing communities are beholdent -- these communities ironically suggest this idealistic thinking toward housing is that of an unobtainable and merely imagined circumstance of dreams.
This work closely relates to Bernd and Hilla Becher’s series of industrial buildings in the Ruhr Valley and even more so to works of the Becher’s students, such as Thomas Ruff’s Hauser building portraits. The similarity in construction and emphasis on similar design in those buildings of which was a particular focus of Ruff (and those of the Bechers) is of a similar interest in the NOTOPIA series, wherein each home is built on one of a handful of original designs, and where each and every slight difference helps these identical structures become their own, recognizable havens. The same precise, calculated, and controlled composition supports a certain objectivity and forgetfulness of the camera’s position when viewing the piece. And the frontal view, contrary to the Becher’s multiple-angle approach, keeps the subject on the focal point of any home in these communities with which the public is so familiar: the street-side exterior.
Format: 120/6x17 Film