Click here to visit Slate's "Shoot the Recession" Flickr page.
Grim economic times produce indelible images. The Great Depression calls to mind grainy news photos of bank runs and soup kitchens, and the harrowing portraits taken by Walker Evans. The downturn of the 1970s evokes images of yacht-size cars idling in line at the gas station. But what does the current economic crisis look like?
There have been a few old-fashioned bank runs, with lines snaking outside IndyMac and Washington Mutual branches. The image of Bernie Madoff walking near his Upper East Side apartment, a possibly sheepish but maybe just bemused look on his face, has the feel of a lasting symbol. Yet in many ways this economic crisis, despite its deepening severity, has been less visible than previous ones. You can't take a photograph of a collateralized debt obligation.
You also can't take a picture of the unemployed if they never leave the house. In a recent Boston Globe essay on what a 21st-century depression might look like, Drake Bennett observed that "instead of dusty farm families, the icon of a modern-day depression might be something as subtle as the flickering glow of millions of televisions glimpsed through living room windows, as the nation's unemployed sit at home filling their days with the cheapest form of distraction available."
Perhaps the stimulus plan will provide funding for a 21st-century Walker Evans. In the meantime, Slate is turning to you. We want to know what the recession looks like to our readers—and we want to tap into your creativity and resourcefulness to capture this perilous moment. Readers are invited to submit photos to the Flickr group we've created for this project, which you can visit here. (Further instructions below; don't worry, it's easy!) Periodically, we will choose a selection of striking photographs from the Flickr group and publish them in a slide show on Slate.
The success of this project will depend on the imagination of its participants. We welcome photos of closed stores and vacant homes; they're clearly part of this story. But we would like to encourage our readers to find surprising ways of recording this recession. Take a shot of the contents of the box you brought home with you when you were laid off. Take a shot of the handwritten sign at your local coffee shop apologizing for the price hike on two eggs, any style. Rather than shooting the empty storefront, take a portrait of the local druggist who just closed up shop. NPR recently reported on the brisk business mechanics are doing these days as drivers are holding on to their old cars longer—document the silver linings as well as the ominous clouds.
For readers who haven't used Flickr before, not to worry—it's a piece of cake. It's also free. Click here to register for the site. Once you've signed up for an account, you can upload your photos, join the Slate "Shoot the Recession" group, and submit your images. Questions about the project can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The project's terms and conditions are set forth here. We're eager to see what the recession looks like to you.