Foreclosure, USA by Kirk Crippens and the fractal nature of San Joaquin Valley towns

March 5, 2010

I was at RayKo in San Francisco this week renting a darkroom and came across the book Foreclosure, USA by Kirk Crippens.

Cover image of Foreclosure, USA by Kirk Crippens

End by Kirk Crippens, image courtesy of the artist

Duplex by Kirk Crippens, image courtesy of the artist

Green Pool by Kirk Crippens, image courtesy of the artist

The images are from Stockton, California, a town in the San Joaquin Valley due east of San Francisco. In the boom years it became a bedroom community for commuters priced out of the Bay Area. Construction boomed with population growth and cheap mortgages, coming to a sudden stop in 2008, leaving many areas unfinished.

The whole of the Central Valley boomed during these years and all the towns lining highway 99 contain subdivisions of similar vintages and in similar states, be it large cities like Sacramento and Fresno or small towns like Selma or Dinuba. There’s a fractal nature to the towns because large or small, they all contain the same urban and suburban features [empty downtowns, Chevron stations, Rabobanks,  Save-Marts, Wal-Marts, craftsman bungalows, post-war schools, dense new subdivisions, etc]. The flatness of the Valley allows the development model of the moment to reproduce itself in a grid-like fashion upon the land in a way that is invariant to scale.

Dinuba has two such unfinished subdivisions each undertaken by mega-home constructors at the peak of the market; Muirfield on the south side of town built by Wathen Castanos and on the west side, Las Casas at Viscaya built by K. Hovnian [HOV, you’ll see their stock is down 94% from its all-time high at the time of this writing, altho it’s up 5x from its crisis low of 85 cents]. The names of the subdivisions are wonderful, too, for capturing the contemporary tastes and aspirations of local home buyers. Though I try, I can’t resist poetic images of decay. Here’s a sampling of my own snapshots from Dinuba:

Muirfield development © Thomas Locke Hobbs

Las Casas at Viscaya at night © Thomas Locke Hobbs

Muirfield in the Tule Fog © Thomas Locke Hobbs

The images in Crippens’ work offer a of west coast, stucco-version of the Detroit-style ruin porn that’s all the rage these days. An exhibit of Crippens’ photographs is currently up at SFMOMA’s Artists Gallery space at Fort Mason in San Francisco until March 12th, 2010. You can also purchase the book on Blurb, altho, unfortunately, Blurb’s prices are outrageous.

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