Paired Houses

Photographer Camilo Jose Vergara describes his unique photo essay, Paired Houses, But One Is Abandoned at Slate.

In Camden, N.J., perhaps the poorest American city I regularly visit, I photograph what I call paired houses: two dwellings, side by side, one occupied, the other empty. Those living in the occupied home often have their lives made more difficult by what happens on the other side of a shared wall. If I see a neighbor or meet the resident of one of the occupied houses, I ask how they’re coping. They tell me that people throw trash in the front and back yards of the vacant unit, causing foul smells and attracting rats.

I think this is a powerful metaphor for the real estate crisis as a whole. There are a lot of legitimate complaints about bailouts and assistance for people who bought houses that they shouldn’t have, made unwise choices due to ignorance or greed or desperation. Why should we have to pay for these people’s mistakes.

Leaving aside the arguments to compassion, there’s no way we can let half of our house go into disrepair and not have that come back to affect us. No matter how well we take care of “our side”, eventually the smell of the garbage will make it through the wall.