“All I know is that every morning when I wake up, I say my morning prayers. I always
thank god for this house.” Diane Dujon, Dudley Street Neighborhood—Boston, MA
“It is not an easy conversation to have with Native people. The emotions are still extremely raw. The pain of the loss is still new. It’s enduring.” Charles Hudson, Hidatsa tribe––Celilo Falls, OR
Community Uprooted explores the impact of eminent domain on the lives of Americans across the United States. Eminent domain is the constitutional power of government to take private property for the greater good of society. This process can be used responsibly, but is also rife with possibilities for misuse and corruption. However, no matter how well implemented, the end result is that families are forced from their homes. Typically, the dispossessed are the powerless and voiceless members of society and often of color. Their protests, if heard at all, are often dismissed in the name of ”progress” and consequently they are faced with the dissolution of their lives and communities.
I chose the following locations to represent the countless times and places, in every corner of this country, eminent domain has been implemented. Each has a story...
Celilo Falls, Oregon
Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania
Las Vegas, Nevada
Los Angeles, California
I first became interested in eminent domain when it was decided to expand O’Hare Airport by taking a good-sized chunk of Bensenville, Illinois. When I started working there, approximately 600 homes and businesses were empty; only about half a dozen families, who refused to move, remained. The area had an eerie feel to it, as if I were in “The Twilight Zone”. A sense of rot and decay permeated the neighborhood. I saw virtually no other people—except for police from more jurisdictions than I knew existed. Nothing was as it should be. I could see that this neighborhood of modest homes had previously been proudly and meticulously maintained, but now paint was peeling, lights were broken, and shrubs were overgrown. The remaining residents witnessed the community where they had raised their families dissolve around them, while many of those who had left could barely stand the emotional pain of returning to view the destruction.
When I began this project, I felt the issues pertaining to eminent domain were clear-cut—good versus evil, David versus Goliath. As I delved further into other locations, I discovered that the issues pertaining to eminent domain are complex and nuanced. A process of societal amnesia often takes place. Projects that may have been vilified when they were first proposed are often considered worthwhile when looked back at with the perspective of time. However, long after society forgets, the families themselves may live with the enduring pain of displacement. For instance, there are people who won’t let their children attend 4th of July fireworks almost 80 years after the Tennessee Valley Authority built the Norris dam, because they still resent the taking of their family’s land. At the same time, many others enjoy boating and fishing on the lake that flooded out 3,500 families.
Often overlooked in society’s zeal for progress is the value of community. Communities are made of more than just buildings. They are the people who live and work in them. They are friends and neighbors. The story of what happens to the fabric of their lives when governments impose their will is often untold. I intend my photographs to raise questions and heighten awareness of the price a minority of people pay when governments make improvements to benefit the majority of citizens.
The Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola University, Chicago led by director Dr. Philip Nyden has partnered with me on Community Uprooted. They have provided reams of interviews with people in the affected areas, historical research, and invaluable guidance—all of which have added tremendous depth and complexity to the project. Thanks to their involvement, my understanding of eminent domain and its societal impact have been greatly enhanced.