Drought: Money Dries Up

I started this project in response to the hopefully hyperbolic news reports covering the financial crisis or ‘Credit Crunch’. This was some two years ago now, and we have arrived at the inevitable Eurozone breakup. Greece must exit, and either Germany will follow, or Italy and Spain will be forced to. Is this just a symptom of Peak Oil and an increasingly rapid shift to a multi-polar geo-political environment? In any case, the current situation is unsustainable. Shakespeare’s King Lear had it right; ‘nothing comes of nothing’.

My more recent thoughts involve the concept of Real Estate as a financial source of income, depicted by the Spanish housing crisis. To me, a house is a home; a shelter from the world in much the same way that a cave might have been. Turning a house into a commodity encouraged speculation and betting on housing for financial profit.

This strikes me as a something-for-nothing approach, and somebody, somewhere ends up reaping the consequences. To hear that a small family home in London bought fifty years ago for £8,000 is now ‘worth’ £2.5 million doesn’t sound like a success story or even a symptom of rampant inflation, mass immigration or restrictive planning policies.

Housing used to cost a small multiple of a person’s salary. This figure has risen exponentially, and now we have the phenomenon of young professionals being unable to afford sensible housing, wealth ‘created’ by buy-to-let ‘entrepreneurs’ and increased costs for everything due to larger rents. A bottle of water is €2.50 in some parts of Barcelona due to crippling rents; the same bottle may be 0.35 cents in the local supermarket.

It is terribly fashionable to criticise the banks. I’m sure that the politicians who demanded that bankers be more egalitarian in their lending choices were equally to blame. Whatever the backstory, it is evident that houses became too expensive for the majority of people because of the easy availability of credit. The sub-prime housing fiasco is the obvious example.

Greed and ego persist. Whether this manifested in consumers deciding that they want to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ and make vast sums by leveraging their home to invest in properties whose value was ‘sure to rise’, or those families who decided that they wanted to live beyond their modest means in the house of their (or MTV Crib’s) dreams, human fallibility got us in a mess again.

The banks are quick to maximise profit on another’s foolish gamble. A house, bought at the top of the market, may be sold for a tiny fraction of its worth when one interest payment is missed. In Spain, some people have missed mortgage payments. Their house has been taken away and sold for the (now much lower) market rate; and the mortgage payments still continue. This is quite normal. A bank in a Capitalist society exists to make money; its social conscience is largely a marketing consideration.

But only the excise of a pound of flesh could be worse. Those who invested in stocks, bonds, fine wines or paintings that subsequently crash should expect to lose their investment. They intended to make money with little sweat; and gambling has its downsides. Taxpayers and governments shouldn’t be expected to pay for personal or corporate folly, as is currently happening.

Foreclosure is the removal of someone’s home. It may be that they overstretched. It could be that they didn’t, but that the market was inflated into a bubble that engulfed them. As a photographer, I seek to capture what’s in front of me. In this case, it was the irony of these vast empty houses (or ‘real-estate investments’) owned by the banks contrasted against those people who have literally been forced, either by their inability or unwillingness to work and the changes in their society, to live in the banks themselves.

These houses have been empty for three years or more, slowly decaying to worthlessness. We have carved up the natural world to create these structures; but people remain homeless. In the same neighbourhoods, new housing developments continue to be built. I’m not suggesting an abolishment to private property, or encouraging squatting. But I would like to highlight the folly of using real-estate as a means to make money; and by extension, ‘creating’ something from nothing by selfishly speculating on ‘derivatives’ of the real staples of human life.

I photographed the banks in London before. Here is a ‘snapshot’ of the world two years ago. Icarus is still waving frantically; drowning. But he has yet to sink.

Ben Evans June 2012

‘I’m sure you’ll be aware by now that the squabbling between Congress and the US President has led Standard and Poor, the rating agency, to downgrade the United States’ credit rating from AAA to AA+. This move would have been unthinkable before and is real evidence for the decreasing US dominance of international monetary (and political) affairs.

In addition, the Eurozone’s systemic risk is rapidly bubbling over with the German electorate increasingly unwilling to throw good money after bad to enable the Southern states able to play on an artificially high level.

Besides stocking up on tinned sardines, how are we as photographers to document and capture what is set to be the largest crisis of our lives? The symptoms will become increasingly evident, but I wanted to capture something more subtle.

These photographs were taken in the City of London, the home of the Bank of England and a key field for finance. Bank branches have been closing there, and I’d like to liken them to springs drying up as a drought begins.

Not being able to get our paper fiat currency out of convenient Holes in Walls will be a major wake-up moment, and has been toyed with a couple of times in the past few years.’ 2010


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