Chauncey Hare (Photographs and text)
249 x 300mm
Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
“Hey, you ever wonder what’s going on the inside of people’s homes?” a friend once asked me as we walked out of the film lab where we worked. He pointed up to the window lit on the second story as we headed toward the BART station. I do—I think of that question often. How is each person living with the changing landscape and environment? What day-to-day routines and challenges do others experience, and how do they differ from my own? What do they do with their time when they’re not working? With the fast-paced transformation of neighborhoods and homes in large cities, especially where I live in the Bay Area, I’m surrounded by people who are forced out of their homes because of new development or the cost of living.
Chauncey Hare photographed in and out of the Bay Area from around the 1960’s through the early 1970’s. Although he actively pursued critical questions like the ones above by using photography as a tool to become intimate with people inside of their homes, he never considered himself a photographer. Protest Photographs (2009) includes texts by both Judy Wyatt, Hare’s wife, and Hare himself, which examines his intentions and personal thoughts, such as the nauseating feeling he would get while working at the Standard Oil Company of California (Chevron) in Richmond, CA. Hare also explains his genuine interest in bringing attention to the mistreatment of people in the workplace, which was influenced by his observations of his father at a young age.
Throughout Protest Photographs, one finds people occupying places of gathering: living rooms with television sets and framed photos of John F. Kennedy and kitchens decorated with a Last Supper tapestry on one side and white appliances on the other. The book starts with a photo that originally appeared on the cover of his first book Interior America, released by Aperture in 1977. It shows a man sitting in overalls beside his stove with pans and a glass coffee pot. Above his head is a painting of a snowy landscape and above the corner of his door is a clock that reads twelve past ten. This man, Orville Englander, set the tone for the rest of Hare’s protest photographs; he was the first person Hare photographed on his Burke and James 5×7 view camera. Hare expresses how he identified with this man. This is particularly evident seeing as he moved in with Orville following his divorce from his wife of 19 years. He lived in Orville’s attic for seven years, caring for him until his death.
At first skim through the book it can be easy to think of this publication as simply a typological study of the inside of people’s homes and workspaces, but there are a handful of cryptic sequences that ask further investigation. Much like Robert Frank’s The Americans where he uses jukeboxes to identify a new chapter, there are also breaks in content within Protest Photographs that separate various sections of the book. One is a grouping of three pictures hinting at birth and death containing a photograph of an old man sitting in his garage, a woman witnessing a group of men carrying a casket, and a baby laying in a crib with the window framing a VW bug. Another is the sequence of a façade of a brand new home built on a barren hill and a façade of a police headquarters building with it’s large authoritarian Roman columns resting on its stylobate. Another visually interesting selection of images includes a man reclined in his lazy-boy chair followed by a photograph of a baby wrapped in white linens on a couch, visually mimicking the man in the previous picture. More straightforward sequences in the book present people in the interiors of their homes, allowing us to consider these scenes.
His framing and strategy is simple and consistent. He shoots with a wide angled lens to catch as much detail in an interior as possible and will often times use a bright flash. Though the flash leaves harsh shadows, it also renders every detail and object within the space visible. In the introduction, Hare says, “…including small details in my photos came from recalling the importance of the specifics of scenes I experienced during the summer visits to my grandparents.”
Hare firmly believed his work should educate and inform. It is admirable that he refused to sell his work because he believed it would devalue the photographs and disrespect the people pictured. Individually the photographs do not speak directly of mistreatment. You don’t see a manager raging in anger, but you do see people interacting within their private spaces, inviting you to take a peek into their daily lives.
Hare’s pure empathy toward his subjects and the volume of photographs he made definitely shows his genuine concern and dedication. To invite a stranger into your home takes a feeling of trust. In their homes, these images show what people held dear and what was of importance to give them comfort in their everyday lives. “I saw injustices that I wasn’t equipped to deal with. Many if not most people I photographed lived joyless lives without spirit, disconnected from a sense of personal meaning that I had learned was necessary for health in my own life,” Hare expresses. A photograph that shows this well is of a man leaning against a corner in his work uniform holding a cigarette with his hands crossed while he looks down between his wall-clock and his television. Family portraits, one’s own high school portrait, and placid landscape paintings are common things that occupy people’s walls.
Though his passion and compassion brought him deep gratification, it also inflicted tremendous financial stress and burden. The anxiety and anger grew within himself, which almost drove him to burn all his prints and negatives because he did not known where his work should ultimately live. Thankfully his work is currently held at the Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley. “Approximately 3,325 silver gelatin photographs, 50,000 negatives, and 3,000 35mm slides” along with tape recordings he made while he conducted audio studies at Chevron and the EPA. Hare later continued his involvement in shedding light on workplace misconduct in a non-photographic book called, Work Abuse: How to Recognize it and Survive it. Though the book didn’t gain mainstream success, it helps target audiences who experience abuse at work. His photography more so is what brings attention and influence or similarities that can be seen through Lars Tunbjork’s Office, and even Alec Soth’s Dispatch series and Songbook.
Chauncey Hare’s contribution to photography, and more so his activism is of great praise and attention. As a lifetime Bay Area resident, I can identify with the thoughts he may have had when making these pictures. His concerns regarding authority, capitalism, and being a bridge into people’s lives are things he mentions and shows in this work. He states, “…it’s necessary to live a life with a sense of purpose that drives you from inside and unfolds according to the path you are meant to follow in your journey through life.”
Chauncey Hare does not consider himself a photographer, but more of a protester and activist. For 21 years he worked for Chevron’s refinery and 8 years at the EPA. While working in these workplaces he found low morale and internal authority struggle. His 5×7 Burke and James camera helped him identify with the working people of America by lighting the interior of their homes. He was able to do this by receiving three Guggenheim fellowships and having a solo show at NYMOMA in 1977. His focus on working people eventually lead to becoming a family therapist and author of a book with his wife about work abuse. His work currently lives in the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, CA.