Reading Summary 2

Reading Summary 2:  Tapestry of Space:  Domestic Architecture and Underground Communities in Margaret Morton’s Photography of a Forgotten New York

In Irina Nersessova’s review of Margaret Morton’s work, she studies the effects of the geographical environment on the emotions and behavior of individuals.  The article states that identity is tied to where you call home. The homeless building shelters with fragments what others have thrown away helps to give them their own sense of identity and in turn giving them a home.

The article relates the stories and photography of the homeless to Situationist International’s critique of mid 20th century advanced capitalism.  This group did not believe that the successes of advanced capitalism and its technological advancement and increased income or leisure could ever outweigh the social dysfunction and degradation of everyday life that resulted from it.  The group had a goal to eliminate the division between art and life and make them one. Today, everything is part of a certain image and images show what people desire to have. The world is becoming more and more materialistic, giving people a stronger feeling of power over those without such materials, such as the homeless. Unlike the settled, Morton’s homeless interviewees use space as a creative guide, building on it using found materials, rather than using the environment as a commodity.

One homeless interviewee named Bernard believes that he is striving to reach a level of consciousness that can’t be attained in mainstream society above the tunnel.  He believes that his environment is a “hell” to “perfect” his level of consciousness. Morton depicts the tunnel where Bernard lives as a psychological space for its residents rather than anything else.  The world there is a sort of refuge that protects him from outside harm but isolates and promotes further poverty, letting him and others essentially hide from their problems.

In Nersessova’s analysis of Morton’s photography, she states that the photography shows the human, emotional and individual sides of the subjects rather than painting them as hardened and cold. Morton points out that for mainstream society, the tunnel is an extremely undesirable place.  This in turn provides a refuge for the dwellers, as it prevents the tunnel from being disturbed for the most part, which is why most of the homeless choose to stay there instead of above ground on the streets.

The homeless often create art in the tunnels, including an imitation of Salvador Dali’s work and graffiti of famous sculptures shows that survival can be a creative undertaking. Morton believes this helps them maintain their sanity and peacefulness.

Since the homeless build their homes on public land, they face the fact that they could be forced out of their home any day. If the homeless is sent to shelters, they have forcefully taken away their individuality and identity, their most important sense of a home.

Negative images of the homeless as lazy, welfare recipients who are choosing this life does nothing to help these people. The stereotypes of the homeless community is challenged in interviews that reveal how the homeless take care of each other and even homeless animals.  The homeless population’s construction of small communities is not only about a need for shelter, but it is about the need to find their identity and where they belong.