Ross Sawyers

(American, b. 1979; resides in Chicago, IL)

Ross Sawyers began constructing and photographing small-scale models of bare domestic interiors after noticing a dramatic increase in the number of high-density housing developments in his own community. His pictures mimic the uniform living spaces commonly seen in new construction, but he adds exaggerated architectural elements to suggest the ways that close proximity living demands certain sacrifices in domestic comfort.

Early photographs, such as No Title (from Approximations), 2006, imagine fictitious rooms with layouts that appear to accommodate unusually close neighboring buildings. Obtrusive walls and nearby windows interrupt the appeal of pristine hardwood floors, crown molding and catalog colored walls. By constructing model rooms that amplify the design compromises common in new residential developments, Sawyers highlights a tension between housing as a sellable commodity and the home as place of solitude and retreat. In these pictures, he suggests that our notions of privacy and community are continually pushed and reformed by developers as they build the structures that we inhabit and call home.

More recent constructions show interiors that look unfinished or deserted. In images like Untitled (2006), plastic sheeting covers windows, boxes and belongings, recalling the incomplete developments and foreclosures of the recent financial crisis. Emptiness pervades in each picture, mirroring stories of loss and vacancy that have become characteristic of the housing downturn.

Together, Sawyers works follow the psychology of a boom-and-bust era in residential housing that continues to play out today. He challenges the function of the model as an ideal to be copied, using miniature structures to highlight the anxieties and frustrations that many home-buyers and renters have encountered in the current, fast changing real-estate market. This is evident not only in the models Sawyers builds, but also in his choice to present his final works as photographs. Photography’s tenuous relationship to truth and reality is a fitting metaphor for the illusions of property value that first propelled the ongoing recession. Like the eventual collapse of the housing market, as you study Sawyers’ works, a false construction eventually emerges.

Ross Sawyers holds a BFA in Photography and New Media from the Kansas City Art Institute (2002) and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Visual Arts from the University of Washington in Seattle (2007). His work has been widely shown in exhibitions including a solo show at Platform Gallery in Seattle, WA (2007) and numerous group exhibitions. Other notable honors include the Crystal Apple Award from the Society for Photographic Education (2007) and a nomination for the John Gitmann Fellowship (2008). Sawyers lives and works in Chicago where he is an Assistant Professor in Photography at Columbia College Chicago.