"On Manufacturing Home" by Lynne Tillman
The English say their home is their castle, their fortress. Americans say its possession is essential to the American dream, part of their birthright. Amy Eckerts photographs of model mobile homes are both perturbations to and affirmations of those notions -- castles and dreams. In her depictions of decorated trailer homes for sale, Eckert fastens on the human need for shelter, but more than that, for home - a space that fulfills much more than four walls and a roof.
The manufacturer of the mobile homes Eckert photographed selected various interior motifs and materials -- carpets, upholstery, bedroom sets, stuffed animal, plants, comforters, drapes-- to create that ineffable thing called style, mood, or fantasy. Each of the models is sparsely furnished, with just enough of the set pieces or markers of home to spark the imagination, to suggest style of life. Walking through the front door of the trailer, the would-be buyer can identify, or not, with its hominess. Thats where I want to live, thats how, the buyer thinks. Thats me.
Eckert is fascinated with that identification, the leap into an image especially of a home created for consumption. In one of her photographs, two fake ice cream sundaes, in old-fashioned dishes, decorate a table, a single spoon beside them, while, in the background, the sun streams through blinds on double windows fringed with a goldish brown curtain. The rooms walls are yellow, the table gray, the two vividly red cherries, on a mound of white cream, invite the buyer to dig in. Heres your new home, eat me, the image says.
Everything is an image, and Eckerts pictures speak directly to the ubiquity of images and the eerie duality of image-making, the photograph and the mental idea or projection. All art makes images but photographys eminent domain in the last thirty years has been questioning the value of its own capacity to represent or construct so-called realities and fantasies, or be an admixture of both.
Eckert, also concerned with these questions, smartly revitalizes the discussion by choosing terrain where the fantasy and actuality of how we live meet their related aesthetic and pictorial issues. One might contend that the photographic frame itself resembles selective memory and desire, by what it includes and excludes; or, that the model home itself is a frame for memory and desire, drawing limits around the imagination. Eckert cunningly alludes to these possibilities in photographs that also delve into and grasp contemporary social, political, economic and psychological behaviors and attitudes.
With her fertile imagination, Eckert brilliantly pictures what makes a home, how different its meanings are to different eyes, and how little or much it takes to create the image of the home you want, your image of perfection.
Manufacturing Home explores my definitions of home and that of the multi-billion dollar housing industry selling the idea back to us. This project began in 1999 with the idea of documenting the process of building homes in assembly-line factories. Is a home a product like an automobile? Can you mass-produce a sense of home? By focusing on brand new, factory-built mobile homes that had never been lived in, I could observe and comment on the strategies employed by manufacturers to make them feel homey and appealing to buyers. I found it very interesting, for instance, that someone thought a picture of a shipwreck on a prop TV, or a rifle next to the bed, might help sell a home.
A mobile home is an oxymoron promising stability and security combined with the freedom of mobility and renewal. They are built right onto semi-truck chassis, and their capacity to be driven away at any moment suggests a lack of commitment, a sense that you haven't come to stay. As I was growing up, my family moved a lot. We lived in mobile homes, one of which we trucked from upstate New York to South Carolina and then back again. My father recalls the unsettling experience of seeing our home drive by us on the highway.
I identify with the random objects in these pictures, they are trying hard to make the empty rooms feel lived in and familiar. In photographing these display homes, I find metaphors for family dynamics, both humorous and dysfunctional. I also find optimism and aspiration on display. The people in my photographs are customers and salespeople, people who were wandering around inside like I was, trying on the place for size. When I photograph these spaces I am also asking, Which room is mine?
- Amy Eckert