Kirk Crippens is a photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He studied photography at the University of Texas at the Austin and Arlington campuses as well as at Stanford University. Kirk has received multiple national and international awards for his work, including the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize from the National Portrait Gallery in London and Honored Guest Artist at the Pingyao International Photo Festival in Pingyao, China. He was also the Artist-In-Residence at Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco and the Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon. Kirk’s works have been spotlighted in numerous solo and group exhibitions all over the world. Kirk talks to atlas this week about how the financial crisis in 2009 inspired him to create his powerful “The Great Recession” series and how the series impacted him personally.
How did you first get started in photography?
I can’t remember a time I was not interested in photography. I started as a child after my parents gave me a camera for Christmas. Then my practice grew after I signed up for a photography class at my high school in Texas. The class taught me how to process and print B&W film. From that point onward, making photographs has been an integral part of my life.
How would you describe your photography?
I would describe my photography as my work, my practice, the thing I want to be doing. I do the projects I feel called to do.
Your The Great Recession series makes a powerful and compelling statement about the state of our country during the housing and financial crisis in 2007-2008. The Chopping Block is an especially poignant set of images that reflect that crisis. Tell us a bit more about this series. What got you thinking about (and later capturing) these images? Where were most of the Chopping Block images taken?
The Great Recession was made over a three year period; I took on a different subject each year. In 2009, I used foreclosed homes as my subject back when the financial crisis was called a housing crisis. In 2010, the housing crisis was being called a recession and I chose abandoned auto dealerships as my subject, wanting to look at the financial effects on industry. The auto industry was certainly struggling, bankruptcy and financial distress was in the air, many of the manufactures were sold or took a bail-out. By 2011, it was clear we were in the largest financial crisis of our lifetime and governments were contracting. Chopping Block was an effort to reflect on places and things that might be lost due to this contraction. Each photograph is of a place on the government chopping block, potentially they couldn’t be afforded. The photographs were made in 2011 and serve as the final chapter for The Great Recession. I chose this subject as I chose the foreclosed homes and the auto dealerships, by observing what was happening in the recession. The images were made wherever I was able to travel during 2011, which turned out to be California, Oregon, Washington, and Texas.
Afterward, for three more years from 2012-2014, I worked on a follow-up series titled Bank Rupture. Returning to Stockton, California, the town I began photographing foreclosed homes in 2009. Stockton voted to become the largest U.S. city in history (preceding Detroit) to declare bankruptcy.
What impact did the Great Recession (Chopping Block) series have on you personally as you shot this series?
I was personally affected by the financial crisis. My employer cut my hours severely in 2009 and laid off my co-workers. That gave me a personal connection to the events. It was difficult to witness the struggle going on in my country. Sometimes I would be wrecked emotionally afterwards, but making the work did provide me a sense of purpose. I hope the photos serve as a remembrance of how quickly things can change. It may seem that the pillars of our society are unbreakable, especially in the hubris of financial boom times, so I hope the photos remind us that there can be unseen fractures and not to forget financial difficulty may overtake us suddenly.
How did you turn photography into a full time career?
My photography work certainly takes up a full-time chunk out of each day, and I would categorize it as my career, but if you are asking how I pay my bills with it, I do not. I have had a job the whole time I have been doing my work.
What about photography appeals to you?
I always wanted to find out what it would be like to practice something your whole life. What could you do with a tool if you used it every day over the course of a lifetime? I am trying to find out.
How do you see your work evolving over the next 3-5 years? Are you working on any new projects?
I have seven or more projects in the works. No one has seen what I have been up to because these things take a long time to pull together and complete.
Most of your work is shot in color. Do you ever shoot in black & white? Do you have a preference?
The project I will be releasing in March/April this year was made on B&W 8×10 film. I’m collaborating with another photographer, Gretchen LeMaistre, and we are currently printing 3-6 nights a week in the darkroom to finalize this new portfolio. I like both color and B&W, film and digital. Each body of work presents different challenges and opportunities, so I take different approaches.
Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Kirk!
For more information about Kirk, visit his website. All images © Kirk Crippen.