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kottke.org posts about Brittany Powell

99 Portraits of Americans in Debt

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2021

a woman sitting in her living room

a man sitting on a sofa

a woman sitting at a small table

Americans are collectively almost $15 trillion in debt, most of it related to housing (i.e. mortgage debt). For the New Yorker, Margaret Talbot shares some images from Brittany Powell’s The Debt Project, a series of 99 portraits of Americans in debt.

Powell set about photographing ninety-nine Americans who owe money (she ended up with a few more, including herself, but started with that figure as a reference to the slogan “We are the ninety-nine per cent”) and asked them to handwrite accompanying text about how much they owe, and to whom. The litany of reasons gets repetitive, because that’s how it goes — difficulty finding a job in one’s field after graduating during the recession, a bad marriage, a bad divorce, vertiginous rents in expensive cities, medical crises, many, many student loans. Occasionally, there are epic and awful variations: one woman’s mother took out credit cards in her name and, in a ten-year period, racked up “a mortgage worth of debt” to fund her “compulsive shopping and hoarding habits.”

The Debt Project is also available in book form.