(The cover of Morton’s book The Tunnel: The Underground Homeless of New York City.)
Tapestry of Space: Domestic Architecture and Underground Communities in Margaret Morton’s Photography of a Forgotten New York written by Irina Nersessova is an analysis of Morton’s work using Situationist International theory. Situationist International theory teaches that capitalist societies engage in something called the spectacle. When a society engages in the spectacle they are fed images by the media that teach people who they are, what they need, what to value, and what to pursue. It’s a lens through which a society views reality, distorting it. Therefore, a rift between a society engaged in the spectacle and reality is created. Instead of people feeding off of reality, the very world around them, they instead feed off of a purely man-made construct that serves to mold people into a particular image. Moreover, this construct pushes people to perpetually consume resources, the newest gadgets, movies, and fashion, which in some cases impacts the environment and the world as a whole.
Typically, we categorize the homeless as those without homes. This is incorrect. The homeless do have homes; they’re just not the conventional homes that are seen in so-called normal society. This is an unfortunate misinterpretation of what homeless means because what follows from this is the devaluing of their lives and homes. As Nersessova mentioned in her paper, it allows cities to remove and destroy the spaces of the homeless without restriction. Nersessova points out that because the homeless are not conditioned by a capitalistic society like the majority of US citizens are, they do not possess the insatiable thirst to endlessly consume resources. Instead, they can be observed recycling and scavenging for materials to create their homes or spaces. As a result, they’re more intimately involved with their homes than let’s say a couple who resides in a $500,000 home located in a rich neighborhood in Connecticut. This is because they had to find and select each piece of their home, and then assemble these pieces using their own personal stream of consciousness. However, as a result, their homes are more fragile than those with more conventional homes. In the bat of an eye, a city could destroy them. Nersessova makes the point in her writing that part of our identity is wrapped up in our homes, because shelter is a necessary component of human life. It logically follows from this that this aspect of identity is more vulnerable in a homeless person than a person who lives in a more conventional home.
Another interesting point Nersessova makes about the homeless, with respect to the homeless who dwell in tunnels under New York, is that because they aren’t bombarded by media images like the rest of society, they’re left to focus on reality and self-discovery; they aren’t engaged in the spectacle described in the beginning of this post. This serves to demonstrate the importance of space and how it can affect ones psyche and behavior.