Though many of us think of trailer parks as the wrong side of the tracks and the people who live there as misfits, the work of San Francisco-based photographer David Waldorf portrays the world of a Sonoma Valley trailer park in a different light. Where some might see squalor and outcasts, Waldorf sees a close-knit community.
The Trailer Park series was taken over a period of about a year in 2006. Part of Waldorf's process is to drive around with a U-Haul trailer he has customized into a portable studio and offer free portraits to anyone who wants them. It's a technique that tends to bring Waldorf into contact with many colorful characters all around the San Francisco area.
Waldorf says the residents of the Brookside Trailer Park in Sonoma comprise a tight community; everyone knows everyone and neighborhood barbecues are common. Some of the people there are migrant workers who harvest grapes in the nearby Sonoma Valley, while others are fixed-income retirees or long-in-the-tooth former drug addicts.
The residents can be wary of outsiders. "The first time I tried to take photos, the residents were a little hesitant," Waldorf says. "People weren't sure I was going to come through with the pictures I promised." Once a few people in the trailer park vouched for him, though, Waldorf started getting invited into people's homes to snap pictures of their lives and families.
There are stories behind many of these photos. Consider, for example, the seemingly young boy, his legs swaddled in bandages, who appears in many of Waldorf's photos. His name is Cody Codello, and he looks no older than 12. (When Codello first approached Waldorf and asked to have his picture taken, Waldorf tried to send him home to get a permission slip signed by his parents.) But in the photos, he is actually 18. His appearance has been frozen in amber by the same disease that made his legs rupture, called epidermolysis bullosa.
Waldorf says that many of the photos in the series came about organically, after getting to know his subjects. A picture of a woman in a wedding dress was taken after Waldorf found out that one of her few possessions was the dress she was married in; asking her to pull it out of her closet, Waldorf photographed the now-divorced woman in her front yard, with her brother playing groom.
Photography has a longstanding fascination with outcasts, but with that comes criticism: by photographing those on the fringe of society, are you also, consciously or not, exploiting your subjects in the name of art? In the case of his own work, Waldorf doesn't think so. "I hung out there for years, and people at the park really seemed to love the photos I took," he says. "One guy even blew his up to the size of a poster to hang on his wall." The people in Waldorf's photos aren't being exploited. They're his fans.
You can see more of David Waldorf's photography at his official site here.