Los Angeles is definitely home to some of the most luxurious, over-the-top-lavish housing in the world. But, as in any major city, not all of L.A.'s residents want, need or can afford glamorous houses with innumerable guest rooms and walk-in closets. Most of us are happy if we find a place that's not too pricey and won’t make our commute too torturous. Others have found the answer to simple living in the tiny home movement, an effort to live larger with much less. Some adventurous home owners have even built their own tiny homes, but there’s an easier option: prefab trailers. Photographer Nancy Baron explores the distinct look of these small spaces in her new exhibition, “Beautiful Trailer Town.” Focusing on Palm Springs, the photographer highlights the area’s mobile home parks and the way in which residents have crafted their dream homes.
In her first book, The Good Life — Palm Springs, Baron illustrates more of the decadence of Palm Springs, calling it a “brightly lit path to the American dream” on her website. Here, the sumptuousness of Palm Springs’ homes comes through fully: an elderly couple sits in a living room area with a gleaming white piano, a dining room with an accent wall shows a man gazing out at what the viewer can only presume is a gorgeous view. One photograph, titled “Lee’s Gone, Liberace’s Palm Spring Estate,” captures a room covered in leopard print from floor to ceiling.
Baron began photographing homes like these after being assigned to the Palm Springs area for a group project. The photographer owns a second home there and took the opportunity to get to know the area better. One thing struck her most: the variety of lifestyle and living choices. As she shot everything from mansions to mobile homes, she grew more and more interested in the latter. Despite their association with a more temporary way of living — mobile homes afford owners the option to leave an area at any given time — the mobile homes that Baron began to photograph prove their owners take pride in creating a real sense of home.
Though many of the photos in “Beautiful Trailer Town” don't include the homes' owners, they capture a certain intimacy. The aesthetic of each space also fascinates Baron. She often chooses what homes to photograph based on two ends of a spectrum: Either the spaces use a lot of color, or no color at all. Similarly, either they use a strong sense of design to transform the space, or they throw caution to the wind and forego any real design rules.
After choosing a space she was interested in, Baron simply went up to the homeowners to introduce herself. Baron describes Palm Springs as “a friendly place,” where residents didn’t balk at the sight of her wandering around with her camera in hand.
“The first time I walked through a mobile home park with my camera I was surprised when everyone I passed smiled and said hello. Some stopped to chat — mostly to say how much they liked their community,” Baron writes in an email.
Her photographs' quotidian aesthetic brings to mind the work of contemporary artists like Ed Ruscha and William Eggleston. Baron also finds inspiration in the work of Larry Sultan and Steven Shore, who've used photography as a medium to elevate the everyday.
“Much of my work documents the exotic subculture next door, aiming to capture and celebrate the majesty in worlds that could easily be overlooked,” Baron says.
Besides appreciating the design aspects of these spaces, Baron now sees the practical benefits of owning such a small space.
“Homes on wheels are not subject to property taxes. There is pride in ownership at a low cost, with no neighbors above or below,” she says. “Although the mobile parks I visited have themes, residents are given a wide berth for personal expression in their own homes, encouraging a diverse community that defies stereotype. A lack of possessions frees up the time, space and money to enjoy the world.”
While glamour might seem enticing to many home owners, Baron sees small homes as evidence that “comfort, community and the freedom of a simple lifestyle are priceless.”
“Beautiful Trailer Town” opens January 16 with a reception from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and runs through March 11. SPOT Photo Works, 6679 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; spotphotoworkslosangeles.wordpress.com.