There’s an intimacy that comes from seeing people in their homes, surrounded by their possessions. And when people are struggling to hold onto those homes, every detail becomes even more revealing: family photos hanging slightly askew on the walls; a cat curled up on a carefully made bed; household items scattered on countertops—the particulars of day-to-day life that anyone with a roof securely over their head might take for granted. Boston-based documentary photographer Kelly Creedon captures these details in her current project, “We Shall Not Be Moved.” The website and traveling exhibit tell the stories of people in Boston’s working-class and low-income neighborhoods facing foreclosure and eviction in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis. In partnership with community organization City Life/Vida Urbana, Creedon brings these stories to life in color photographs, supplemented by text, audio, and video, capturing the moment in which embattled tenants and homeowners become activists and community leaders.
In exhibiting her work, Creedon hangs portraits of people in their homes, alone and isolated, followed by images of them meeting with neighbors, sharing their stories, and eventually taking to the streets. The arrangement of images mirrors the journey many of her subjects take as they move beyond their own personal struggles to join a larger movement.
Before diving into the work of photographing this journey, Creedon sat in on weekly meetings at City Life, at which as many as 80 to 100 people gather to share their stories and learn how to help themselves and each other through collective action. She notes that people come to City Life looking for a way to pay an affordable rent or mortgage to stay in their homes—they’re not looking for handouts.
“I don’t think people are dismissing the question of personal responsibility,” Creedon says, “but they come to realize that there was an entire industry that was behaving irresponsibly.”
When she started creating images for the project, Creedon talked with City Life members like Reggie Fuller and Louanna Hall. As the only remaining tenants in a foreclosed building that has suffered both a fire and a violent assault on the premises, they were at a loss for what to do when neither the landlord nor the bank would take responsibility for the property. Through their involvement with City Life, they have become outspoken advocates for themselves and for others facing housing displacement, taking part in organized protests throughout Boston.
Marshall Cooper, 75, followed a similar trajectory from hopelessness and frustration to inspiration and a sense of purpose. As the primary caregiver for his ailing parents, he was unable to keep up with the rapidly rising mortgage payments on his house, which went into foreclosure in 2010. But Cooper has refused to leave his home. Working with a legal defense team, he’s fighting to stay there. He has also become a community leader through his collaboration with City Life, which he refers to as his family. Creedon says that even members who lose the fight to keep their own homes often continue working with the organization, because of the relationships they’ve built with others in the community.
“We Shall Not Be Moved” has traveled throughout Boston and New York, providing further opportunities for people to get their stories heard—many of the individuals who appear in Creedon’s work attend the exhibits and speak to attendees. Creedon says this is one of the most rewarding parts of the project.
“I really enjoy watching people see themselves on the wall in a gallery, or hear their own story in a presentation,” she says. “In seeing themselves reinterpreted that way, through someone else’s eyes, they have a different understanding of the power that they have, that their story has and their voice has. It’s a powerful thing to witness the way people transform through that relationship.”
Creedon is looking to take “We Shall Not Be Moved” on the road to cities in the South and Midwest, and she’s also at work on new projects that will explore the faces and stories behind issues like workers’ and immigrants’ rights.
“The majority of people I’m documenting aren’t in the mainstream narrative we’re seeing in the media and the press,” Creedon says. “They appreciate that someone would take the time to ask them to tell their story and to lift up their story in a public way…and I really like being the person who gets to show up and ask those questions.”
We Shall Not Be Moved | http://weshallnotbemoved.net/