Between 2003 and 2005 Michael Schmelling photographed a number of residences in the accompaniment of Disaster Masters, a New York-based company that specializes in cleaning homes and counseling hoarders. Facing eviction, health hazards, and family interventions, the owners of these homes were unable or unwilling to get rid of the things they had accumulated. These people are often diagnosed clinically as having Obsessive Compulsive Hoarding Disorder (OCDHD). Through a process of salvaging and discarding, the contents of a home can be disposed of and rearranged within hours. The process can be both invasive and cathartic. Working through this chaos, Schmelling illuminates the random sentimentality that can infuse one’s belongings.
While hoarding may at first appear to be an aberration, looking through The Plan can inspire a sense of familiarity and empathy. Many of the things Schmelling photographed are the same things that pass through our homes every day: an old baseball, a weeks worth of junk mail, some spare change, a rotten piece of fruit, unread books. Schmelling documented these interiors, their contents, and the process of clearing, as a means to examine the nature of hoarding and its antecedents: compulsion, consumerism, and the human need to impart meaning to objects.
The design of the The Plan takes its conceptual lead from its content, with 490 photographs on 576 pages. It takes its name from Disaster Masters’ toll-free number (1-800-THE PLAN). The book is divided into twelve chapters, each documenting a different home. The Plan is an arresting art object as well as a fascinating document of urban archaeology and psychology. Includes an essay by Richard Maxwell.
Read an Artforum review of an exhibition of The Plan here.
The Plan was shortlisted for the Les Rencontres d'Arles 2009 Prix du Livre.
MICHAEL SCHMELLING lives and works in New York City. His previous book, Shut Up Truth, was published by J&L in 2002. Schmelling also contributed all principle photography to The Wilco Book, published by Picturebox in 2004. He is represented in Chicago by Bucket Rider Gallery.