From a distance the houses could be real, but upon closer inspection what fleetingly appeared as a documentary snapshot of an American suburban idyll, descends abruptly into the clever details of a meticulous hand made model. The erosion of this seeming documentary image is made more apparent when the flames spreading along the horizon and engulfing homes comes into focus. But despite this pretended conflagration the three photographs of Landscape with Homes by James Casebere retain an unsettling playfulness.
Contextualised as a mediation upon ‘the social threat of economic instability and loss of control’ unleashed by the ongoing sub prime mortgage crisis, the three photographs perform anxiety, but at a safe distance. The real social and financial problems besetting the contemporary home are displaced into a fictional zone, in which the existential threat of home repossession is displaced into an act of model destruction. Moreover the flames marking the horizon are suggestive of the images of the large wild fires that regularly scorch the American landscape. This is perhaps the most unsettling part of this glue and cardboard world. Landscape with Homes transforms the social consequences of unregulated financial markets, into the familiar vocabulary of ‘natural disaster’, with the gaze of the viewer complicit to this visual paraphrasis of contemporary crisis. The model as a mode of paraphrasis provides a comfort zone, a mode of thought in which assumptions and opinions can be staged and rehearsed, without the awkward rough edges of reality intruding upon and deforming them.
Amongst the tidy wooden houses and unfenced green space of Landscape with Homes, which are evocative of and shadow the utopian rhetoric embedded in Post War architectural drawings of social housing, lays the mechanism of a panopticon. But it is not the all seeing Bethamite structure, instead it is a selective act of seeing, that to paraphrase Foucault’s Discipline and Punish induces in the viewer a state of consciousness that assures the automatic functioning of power. The power deployed in this instance is that of the image and the fluid motivations that circulate around and through it and these determining frames only bring to sight a willed blindness to the real, and this tyranny of the image, which is that of the model and by extension the genre of ‘constructed photography’ determines the extent and cogency of Casebere’s photographs. Although ‘constructed photography’ is regularly described as means that can lay bare assumptions about photography, representation and reality, its ends only reiterates and confirms a perception of social reality that is devoid of agency. The world is returned to sight as a temporary and fragile model, in which the consequences of contemporary finance are ‘misplaced’ as natural disaster.