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Friday Slide Show: Empty Rooms Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

6 December 2019

In 2003, we were cast our of our home of 28 years when new owners took over the property. We realized our time would be up because our rent-controlled unit wouldn't have paid the property taxes the new owners would have had to pay. An owner move-in was the most likely outcome.

We engaged a real estate agent who could quote Lenny Bruce and wasn't phased by our requirement to find a place within 60 days. John diligently shepherded us around the city looking for a place with a bunker that didn't need major renovations (although he tossed a couple of those in there just to scare us).

We'd been reviewing digital cameras for nearly five years by then so we brought along one or another to take shots of the properties to review at our leisure. And as memory aids.

Funny thing, though. The places each had their own aura, their own vibe. The neighborhood set the tone but the interior light set the mood. We either liked the place, got the shivers or (at last) loved it. We didn't really need the photos.

It's astonishing how many buildings fail to flatter themselves with light.

It's astonishing how many buildings fail to flatter themselves with light.

Walking through the architecture school at UC Berkeley one day, we happened to see an exhibit which proclaimed, "Architecture is sculpting with light." Or something like that.

But that quote doesn't just refer to how shadows fall on the exterior of a building. It also refers to what happens to rooms when light enters them.

Even more amusing, though, is how light can inadvertently flatter a space. Garages are prime locations for this phenomenon. Nobody cares about light in a garage as long as there's enough of it. A bare bulb will do in some cases.

And yet, sunlight seeping in through a weathered door or filtered through dusty curtains can create a mood worthy of Strindberg.

We were thinking of our old real estate photos the other day when, taking a five mile urban hike, we found ourselves in one of the neighborhoods we had visited in 2003. We remembered the building John had taken us to when we found ourselves on its street again.

And we remembered a couple of the photos we had taken there.

What would they look like now? Sixteen years later? How had we even remembered them? And would they work as a series together with the others? A series, say, of empty rooms.

As it turned out, we really enjoyed working on this set.

These images were captured by one of two cameras: either a Kyocera Finecam S5 or the Pentax Optio S, famous for fitting into an Altoids tin. They were taken as snapshots, not art. Utilitarian. Vernacular.

The rooms had been made presentable for the sale of the house. Most were bare (unlike the staging common today), the homes unoccupied. Personal items had weeks ago disappeared.

And yet they seemed to present themselves like an old relative perched on a couch who could tell you stories all afternoon.

For no other reason than that, we find them endearing.

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