The brilliant journalist, Marilyn Berlin Snell, got the idea of following Dorothea Lange’s trail through the Central Valley of California where the most foreclosures were happening in America in 2010. She wrote a beautiful piece that is in Mother Jones online magazine now with some of my pictures.
The photograph of Mary MacNeil twisting her brother Michael Hurst’s ill-fitting prosthetic leg back in place was inspired by Lange’s famous photograph of a woman’s leg in dirty torn stockings in the dustbowl. I was also visualizing the term “the broken arm” that referred to adjustable loans with balloon payments that were impossible to repay. Tragically, brother and sister lost this house and Hurst had a fatal heart attack in the transition.
While I felt terribly for the people who were under such financial strain and I certainly felt the behavior of the banks was reprehensible, I was not a fan of the idea towns had to build their way out of financial difficulties. So that one morning Marilyn and I went down for breakfast in a hotel in Sacramento that had been built to go with the new arena next door. We discovered we were the only guests in the hotel because it and the arena had been foreclosed on.
In Los Banos the city managers decided to sell themselves as a suburb of San Jose and they made developments based on that concept. They sold their crime free town as a place that would be good for raising children. But when homeowners had to commute for hours every day their children were left alone to cause trouble in the farm community. And now Los Banos has whole developments of cookie cutter McMansions that were foreclosed on before they were occupied.