Coming of age in contemporary society, one thing Zalesky realized was that recent modernity came coupled with unprecedented quantification; all that matters comes in a digit(ized) form – whether it be the figure on the weight scale, the likes on our Instagram, or the bolded number on our bank statement. Zalesky wanted to explore into these digit(ized) forces which have come to dominant and describe his generation of today– one empowering, the omnipotent internet; the other debilitating, the student loan crisis – and scrutinize how they interact. Zalesky dove into every corner of cyberspace to discover how the citizens of tomorrow are utilizing its power to counter the paralyzing weight of debt. He set-up accounts on every type of site possible that was positioned to help people deal with their debt – crowdfunding platforms, ‘dating’ websites, even egg-donation-oriented Reddit forums – learning their stories along the way. Using a proprietary combination of geometric algebra, data modeling, and Photoshop manipulation, Zalesky was able to create portraits of the people he met online using the debts that have come to define them, resulting in a pixelated aesthetic that is symbolic of the digital terrain where they met. As one may notice, the numbers that inform the portraits vary in density and gradation respective to their relative value, however, as one might not glean, each number is specifically chosen so that when they are added up, they literally equate to the amount of student debt each story represented. In conclusion, Zalesky wanted to humanize the faces of student debt and liberate their stories by inversely using the numbers that have come to drastically incapacitate these individuals.
“https://www.gofundme.com/disownedlgbt” tells the story of a man, named Liu, Zalesky met through gofundme.com who was originally from Japan but came to study in New York. His reason for overseas education was because he realized he was gay and that the openness and accepting nature of Western culture would give him the capability to be himself. When he told his already suspicious mother the truth, his family not only cut-off all communication, they cut-off all funding of his life abroad. Now with USD$18.4K in debt, he has had to drop out of school, move out of the New York to Toronto due to cheaper living expenses, and pick up a waiting job to stay afloat. Liu was in the pursuit of the American Dream – he wants to live a life of liberty, opportunity, and equality – and even though his family is obstructing his ability to do so, if tuition was not so costly, he believes he could have figured out a way to stay in New York. This was just one of the countless of stories Zalesky encountered throughout his investigation - sobering realities that show how life altering the weight of student debt can be. And yet, to so many, Liu is just another cell in an excel spreadsheet representing a loan to be collected. Zalesky wanted to expose and personalize the plight of student debt through Liu’s story, and because this scenario represents a distinct case from whole, Liu’s portrait discretely adds up to how much student debt he has - $18,400.00.
Aerospace Engineer brings to light the story of a women Zalesky met through mygirlfund.com – a webcam-based platform. Aerospace Engineer is a freshman at a university in the Midwest who is in the pursuit of becoming an aerospace engineer. Her family is not wealthy and she is only able to attended school through the scholarships she gets from being an honors student and a varsity athlete. However, the aid offered by these scholarships are only enough to cover her tuition and rent expenses. She needs spending money for food, supplies, textbooks…etc. but cannot find a job that’s compatible with her academically and athletically over-packed schedule. This has led her to create a mygirlfund account because it is one of the few occupations she can undertake during her own time, wherever she pleases, and result in a sufficient return. Similar to “https://www.gofundme .com/disownedlgbt”, Aerospace Engineer adds up to a debt figure, however, unlike the portrait of Liu, this work adds up to $35,051.00, the average amount of debt the 2015 graduating class - the most recent inductees into the student loan crisis. Aerospace Engineer equates to this generalized figure because the method of approach utilized by the individual depicted above was the most common form of ameliorating the pains of debt – a sort of self-sexualization where people were commoditized in order to sell and exchange what the citizens of the Internet demanded most.