My images of urban devastation in Camden, New Jersey were one of the earliest of my articles to go “viral”, a term I use in quotes since it’s only relative to my blog as a whole. But the article about the 100% abandoned Arlington Street in Camden still has more quotes than just about any other article on the blog. It’s hard not to deny that a photo such as the one below is inevitably going to be pretty…um…grabby.
I had no idea back in 2009 how committed I would be to this blog, and I made no effort to copyright my intellectual property. Thus, this photo in Camden got pinched by numerous clickbait pastiche pseudo-documentaries. We all know the type: usually 10-minute Youtube videos with names like “10 Worst Places in America”, “Murder Capitals”, “Places Where the Jobs are All Gone”. Sure, I suppose it’s possible that other people took photos of that exact spot along Arlington Street and it’s just a coincidence, but the framing of the photos on these articles is the same as mine, the positioning of debris in the street is no different, the clouds are the same. It’s my photo.
So it was a pleasant surprise when Echo Media approached me a few months ago to ask permission to use these Camden photos. Happy to oblige, the resulting film documentary short, titled Exploitation, is ostensibly an excerpt from a longer, more ambitious forthcoming project. Exploitation is available for viewing on Vimeo.
Largely within the context of a narration and pontifications from journalist Chris Hedges, Exploitation expounds upon a definition of capitalism in the context of current manifestations of social malaise, using exploitation as the key act, with prominent corporate figures and their politician lackeys as the primary agents of exploitation. It identifies a problem that both polarized ends will likely agree upon; the solution is where they differ.
As readers of my blog might have guessed, this is an unusual foray for me in that it is deeply political, which largely goes against the fundamental ambition of American Dirt by striving to view the word through a centrist or non-partisan lens as much as possible. This remains my goal, and suffice it to say I did not accept money for Echo Media’s right to use these photos, any more than I did for the use of my photos in other media (e.g., an anthology of poetry, children’s books about military life). Part of my goal in remaining non-partisan in my analysis is a recognition that other people are quite the opposite, and that if I turned these offers down on the basis of objecting to their political ethos, I’d be obliquely displaying my partisanship, even if most people would never know about an offer I rejected. That said, I usually don’t reject good-faith offers—i.e., the ones that aren’t part of some sort of pyramid scheme or other scam (which unfortunately are the majority)—in part because, I’ll admit, I like the publicity. And why not publicize through sources that are coming from both sides of the political aisle? Besides, anyone who watches Exploitation will see a disclaimer at the beginning of the film, which I appreciate mightily.
The representatives from Echo Media assure me that Exploitation is merely a segment in what will eventually be a much larger production, and that it will appear at PhillyCAM every Friday at noon throughout the month of January. Stay tuned, or watch it now on Vimeo, and check for my photography at around the 10:20 mark. As always, I look forward to any and all dialogue on the subject Though Arlington Street was demolished only a year or two after my 2003 photos, the pervasive poverty continues to plague Camden, and (continuing the theme) opposing sides of the political aisle can in part agree with the symptoms Camden presents, as posited in a film like Exploitation.