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Q&A With the Photographer Behind Those Viciously Funny "SF: For Rent" Photos

Scot Hampton explains the secrets behind his viral photo essay.

"Waterfront Condo - $5000 Waterfront condo in the highly desirable, up-and-coming Mid-Market area. Luxurious living at its finest! Enjoy the sounds and smells of the UN Plaza fountain as you relax in your condo after a hard day of complaining about the homeless. Close to public transportation, Civic Center Farmers Market, @Twitter, the @Tenderloin and several aggressive seagulls. 33 SQ. FT. Utilities not included, nor available."

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"Cozy Studio - $4100 Cozy studio with skylights right in the heart of the rapidly redeveloping Mid-Market area. Daily housekeeping included! Right on several major Muni lines, and close to BART. Perfect for the daily commuter. Utilities not included. .83 SQ. FT."

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"Studio Loft - $3000 Government housing. Section 8 OK! Studio loft with vaulted ceiling! Located in Financial District, near Market street. Close to shops, food and public transportation. 2.17 SQ. FT. Utilities not included."

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"Garden Penthouse Studio - $7350 Garden penthouse studio in Mid-Market area. Light and Airy! You'll enjoy the fresh breezes of Market Street as they blow through your perfectly manicured and landscaped garden. Coveted mid-market area, close to shops and right on the major Muni and BART lines. Landscaping included. Utilities not included."

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It was only a matter of time before some smart-ass photographer put together a pitch-perfect satire of the cost of shelter in this town. That smart-ass was local photographer Scot Hampton, whose brilliant photo essay, SF: For Rent, savagely parodies San Francisco's rents by putting up "For Rent" signs on dumpsters, manhole covers, and parklets, and then pairing them with fake rental listings. His work has gone viral today, so we phoned up Hampton to get the scoop:

San Francisco: We'd be willing to bet you got the idea for the photo essay series from—what else—San Francisco's horrible housing market. But how'd you come with the approach to stick "For Rent" signs on trash cans, mailboxes, and dumpsters?
Scot Hampton: It was after seeing some of the terrible craigslist housing ads that SFist, Uptown Almanac, and The Bold Italic occasionally post. Couches or closets for rent at exorbitant prices.

You know, five grand a month for that "waterfront condo" that's really a dumpster doesn't actually seem that bad.
In retrospect, you're right. I probably should have listed that rental property for about $10k!

How much worse do you think things are going to get?
I think things are going to get much worse, with an even greater income disparity.

Your piece is one of those funny but not funny satires. Do you have a larger point about housing behind it? Or is this just a really smart way to call attention to how crazy the market is?
The main point was to call out how crazy the market is right now, but also to allude to how bad (I think) it will get. There's a great quote in one of my favorite old books (The Barbary Coast by Herbert Asbury) that someone tweeted recently, that applies to present day SF just as much as it did in the 1850's.  I'm also working on a companion photo essay, taking portraits of people displaced by the housing market or evicted by the Ellis Act.

What's the solution? Building more housing? Stricter rent control? Everybody moving to Stockton?
I do not know. I'm not sure if there is one. It's the basic law of supply and demand. You have a limited supply coupled with an endless demand created by well-paying tech jobs—wish I had one!—in which no shortage of renters are willing to pay top dollar for any nook and cranny available. More housing is being built, but it's mostly luxury apartments and condos that cater to a higher paying clientele with higher paid jobs whom can afford them. In my humble opinion, the middle class will eventually be priced out of the city entirely.

Just how hard is to be a working artist right now?
It's been tough. My day job is working as a part-time freelance video editor, barely making ends meet. I don't make much money as a photographer. Yet.

What's the worst rental situation you've ever been in?
I've been relatively lucky in SF. I've lived in Noe Valley, the Inner Sunset, and SOMA. However, I went to LA for work in 2011 for about a year, and when I came back in 2012 I couldn't afford anything in the city. I currently rent a room in Alameda. I miss the city. I have a friend who rents a closet in the city... but I don't miss the city enough for that!

Your piece has being going viral all day around San Francisco's blogosphere. Are you surprised at the traction it's had?
Very surprised. I didn't know it would touch a nerve with so many people. I guess there's a lot of people out there who are just as disgusted and disheartened with the insane rental prices as I am.

Do you know if anyone has put a deposit down on that manhole cover? We've been looking to move out of our studio...
Not yet! And surprisingly, the CL ad for the Plaza Fountain Condo is still up after 8 days!

Enough about us. Tell us more about you
I've spent the last decade or so working in tv and video, but this year I am making a career switch to photography full time. I've been taking pictures since I was a kid. It's time to return to my roots. A glutton for punishment? Want to be even poorer? I guess both, but photography is my passion, so I'm going for it. 


Check out the full photo essay on Scot Hampton's website.

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