John Happel's photograph 'Things Left Behind' got an Award of Excellence in the Interpretive Eye category at the recent CPOY 70. Catching Photo of Yours (CPOY) is a new CPOY Blog feature that gives photographers a chance to share the emotional and technical aspects of making their award-winning photograph.
The story behind this photo began in April 2015 when over 90 residents of Sunset & Ed's trailer park received news that they had six months to vacate the property. Most of the people who lived there were impoverished with some trying to support children and families on what little they had. To me, this story was emblematic of what sometimes happens to poor people when a town or city undergoes a period of boom and development: they get pushed further and further toward the fringes. Ironically, these are the very people that depend on being close to urban centers so that they can work and find jobs.
When I began photographing there, I took portraits using artificial lighting. During that time, I got to know the people who lived there and the troubles they faced in their daily lives. When I returned in the fall, the trailer park had already changed so much. More than half of the residents had already left, many without their trailer homes. Most of the trailers that people owned were difficult to sell and too old to be accepted at the few remaining trailer parks in the area.
As the eviction date drew closer, I knew that the transition would not be easy for the people still living there. I wanted to document what was happening and try to show that this was 'home' to some. It wasn't an idyllic place to grow up or raise a family, but it meant something to some people. Soon this neighborhood would be just another vacant lot waiting to be developed. There was something haunting and sad about the things I saw there in the last few weeks before the park closed. I was trying to pay attention to how that felt when I photographed.
The picture that I made was meant to show that the abandoned trailer was once home to a family. It looked as if the family had left in a hurry since most of their belongings were strewn about the yard and left inside the trailer. The teddy sat is such contrast to the its surroundings. I think that is what drew me to the scene. I got to know many of the children in the neighborhood during the time I spent there. I became a welcomed visitor after a while. I knew that this scene was foreshadowing what would soon come for those who had not yet left.