8 Sep 2010
I have been working on this project since I first moved to Los Angeles, back in 2007. It started on a trip back to my hometown of Menifee, CA, to visit my parents with some friends from school. We came across an abandoned house right up the street from my parent's place that I had somehow never noticed in all my years of growing up there, so we decided to look around a bit before heading back to school.
There are a lot of abandoned houses in the Inland Empire and exploring them was something my friends and I did often when I lived there. I was expecting this house to be just like the rest I had seen before, run down, filled with empty beer bottles and maybe an old mattress or two. This particular house was very different from the rest. Although, it did contain some empty beer bottles it was also filled with personal items left behind from the 1960's and 70's. There were well preserved clothing hanging in the closets, letters, baby shoes and dishes still on the kitchen shelves.
After that first visit my mind ran wild with possible explanations of why someone would leave behind what seemed to be such important items. I kept going back to the house over the next two years. I brought friends and showed them the property hoping that someone would help me uncover the mysteries behind what happened to the people who once lived there. The deed, as well as countless letters and bank statements were left in the house so finding out the names of the owners wasn't difficult, but finding out why they up and left their home and possessions was. Sometimes Google can only take you so far.
I became mostly interested in the woman who once lived in the house, Elizabeth. Most of the items left behind belonged to her, all of the letters were addressed to her and I had even found her purse with her hair comb and jewelry inside. I started to create her life story in my head, and decided she was an intelligent woman with ambitious dreams but because of the culture in that time period she let herself become trapped in a life that she didn't want. That's why when it came time to leave her life behind she left everything, even her purse.
I felt like I was done photographing the house and wanted to take the project further so I decided to remove the items I had found inside and create self portraits depicting Elizabeth and her family based on what I thought they were like. I have been shooting the portraits for about a year now and not much in the story I am telling has changed but some things have. For instance, I started off believing that Elizabeth had a daughter so throughout the series a little girl appears in some of the images, but as I researched the family more I am not entirely sure that a daughter existed. That is why this project is so fun and interesting for me, I don't know anything for sure so the story I am telling is subject to change as I discover things or decide to go in a different direction. I've got clothing, jewelry and letters but other than that the story is based on my own feelings.
Before starting the portraits I thought a lot about my own life and how much freedom I have. Being a woman who grew up down the street from where Elizabeth use to live hit home for me. I realized how easy it could be for someone to get wrapped up in what they are "supposed" to do and in turn fail to accomplish what they really want. Doing this project was a way for me to honor women who struggled and weren't allowed the opportunities I am just because of their sex.
Because I feel so close to Elizabeth I've tried to make the images feel very personal, like you are witnessing a private moment with her. Throughout the series she looks discontent and upset, which is a really important characteristic of her that I want to get across. I wanted to show a small moment in time in-between the fake smiles and forced happiness where her real feelings came through. It was important for me to have her interacting with other people so you could see the difference in her emotions compared to everyone else. She's the one who gets that there is more to life than what is in front of her, and she longs for it.
This project has been so fun because I get to combine so many of my interests into one series. I will definitely plan on continuing this project because when making up a story like this the possibilities are endless.