Debt, a photo project


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It’s a feature, not a bug.

I certainly hope that she includes a few of the many people (I know three of them) who refinanced homes on which they owed little or nothing, in order to buy cars and boats and take vacations (remember "Let the equity in your house work for YOU!!) - and then lost it all.

It would leaven the sadness of this project with a little life-affirming schadenfreude.

Am I the only one that thinks it’s weird that if her project is successful, her portraits of people in debt will possibly make money?

The Kickstarter angle also makes me chuckle a bit.

Will the end credits feature some clip art and the words “I feel for ya, bro.”?

Also, I don’t think any of the folks featured will be making the festival circuit.

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Danielle could probably pay off a ton of her debt if she sold her teak armoire and matching night stand…

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August could sell his accordion, and does he really need those glasses? I bet some of them have cable too…

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These portraits will not be generating profit.

The best answer to debt is following Dave Ramsey’s baby steps program. All these folks should do it.

Even if they did, what would it matter?

Yeah, kidneys are valuable, too, and the second one is clearly a luxury, right?


A comment above mentioned how it’s odd that the pictures will make money. I’m just clarifying that I’m not intending to profit off of people’s portraits and stories of debt.

I would love to photograph your friends who you describe. This is a project intended to show ALL the different sides of debt and how it affects everyone in our culture. Please send them my way!

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There are numerous stories about “why do poor people have nice things” but I think this is more of a “a lot of people are in debt for different reasons.” It’s a “portrait of debt” and it’s likely that many of these people are actually on the right track to get rid of their debt, such as new graduates who have a job doing what they want to do.

For many people, selling a $1000 item of furniture will not alleviate their debt, and most people use their “stuff” regularly anyway. I too often find it interesting to see someone who is in gobs of debt and “cant’ control their spending” have what looks like really nice stuff, but people HATE to be seen as poor. Most people would gladly go into debt an extra couple thousand dollars to put on the appearance of not being poor.


Are you serious? That looks like 30-40 year old mass-produced Danish furniture (the armoire and 3-drawer chest). Not “classic” or iconic. Just cool-looking. $100 at a garage sale?

You’re right: she should sell them and just pile her clothes and papers on the ground.


Just to be clear, I wasn’t suggesting that he sells those things (maybe I wasn’t as clear as @Arys, but my point was the same) - sometimes people have stuff (like a teak set of furniture) that has a lot of sentimental value and wouldn’t get a lot on the second hand market. Maybe they could have saved money by not buying it in the first place, but they might as well keep it now if it’s one of the few nice things they have. It may also have been a gift or heirloom or they might not even be able to sell it, so its monetary value may not be relevant. While the people in the photos may not be reading this thread, I would find it offensive if I shared my debt problems with someone and they started suggesting things around the house that I could sell or ways that I’m not managing my money right.

A friend of my wife is in a similar situation - she grew up with a father who gave her everything she wanted, but her income is a lot more modest now. She’s getting control of her finances now, but for a while she would get into problems and ask people for a loan, then use the money to buy some unnecessary piece of furniture or another pedigree cat. It wasn’t premeditated, I think she just hadn’t developed the psychological tools to live within her means. I have a lot more sympathy for people who have been through college in the US though - the kind of debt you can build up without being extravagant at all seems like it’s almost training you to accept it as an inevitable part of your life. In the case of Danielle, it’s easy to have unrealistic ideas about your ability to pay off debt and at 20 you can get into a lot more debt than you can handle.


I appreciate the creator coming on board and
clearing up the profit question.

I still keep coming back to the crowdsourcing aspect. The cynic in me reads it like:

“I’m so confident that this project will find an audience I’m letting other people put up the money to make it a reality!”

The realist in me:

“I’ve just spent months documenting how debt eats these folks alive. No way in hell am I gonna follow them down that road, even if that means this doesn’t get done.”

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Yeah, I’ve had friends who have some nice things yet have constant debt problems, and since they were friends I had the “luxury” of asking them point-blank about it. Their reasons essentially matched yours – they were hand-me-downs or rare finds or something they really loved. I think something else that’s interesting is how luxury spending and debt often hits the same as dieting problems, as people say things to themselves like “I’ve been good, I’ll splurge a little [money|calories]” which ends up putting them back where they started.

I think the interesting thing about this project is that the people selected aren’t being eaten alive by debt. A fair number have very modest credit card debt and say they just haven’t worked through it all, or have just finished school and haven’t finished paying it off.

I mean, I had 10k student debt when I finished college and it took me 9 years to pay it off. It wasn’t an all-consuming thing, but it did affect my thoughts on savings, success, etc., and it was real debt. I had to deal with it. But I’m also a person who has never paid credit card interest. It’s not a badge of honor – just a fact – but we often don’t talk about debt. Like the artist says, it’s almost always a private thing and not discussed.


I don’t think any of them would appreciate their poor judgment being published for all to see, but I’ll ask.

Getting out of debt can be a long process but it can be done simply. The key things are to make AND use a budget and do what Dave Ramsey calls a debt snowball (

There’s a little more than that to it but the point is it’s not impossible. I’ve done it and I counsel others on how to too.

I appreciate your asking, and I’m so happy that this conversation is even happening at all! It’s the point of this project; to show a portrait of what debt looks like, and how it affects everyones identity as well as where it fits into our social structure. To answer your question about why crowd funding @thesporq … I have been working on this project for almost two years. I started it because I filed for bankruptcy in 2012 myself, after several years of under-employment following the economic collapse in 2008. I have been self funding the creation of the project to date, on an already modest income. I can’t afford to finish it, so I’m asking for help. The funds won’t pay me (I have a job), they will pay for the necessary expenses to finish the project. I think the work is important and judging by the press response, other people do too, which is great. However that isn’t necessarily being reflected in the Kickstarter, which doesn’t have me confident at all. Art projects can be hard to raise funds for. Thanks again for your question.

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