"Every night, all night, for a week, we followed a squad car in our van carrying the couch . . . How do you ask people to let you bring an eight-foot sofa into their burglarized apartment? They think you're crazy or very insensitive."
Horst Wackerbarth's account in The Red Couch of the problems he faced in taking one photograph -- he eventually gave up and put the couch in a jail cell instead -- illustrates a potential pitfall he and Kevin Clarke were always aware of.
"Burglarized people I talked to two or three times were totally surprised by the request. It was unbelievable for them," says Wackerbarth. "If you take it very, very dogmatically, you can say all photography is exploitation. Some primitive tribes, for instance, think the camera eats their soul. There's some truth in this, but I believe if you're an artist, sometimes you have to do things that aren't 100 percent pure.
"It's a moral question. You can say some of our photographs are in poor taste, but it's important to show in the book that there are poor people as well as rich people. A little shock and provocation are sometimes necessary."
One of the most willing subjects was the "nuclear family" in Goldsborough, Pa. The couple, who lived in the house closest to the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, volunteered their services when they heard Clarke was scouting the area.
"This apolitical couple had retired to a dream cottage on the river, and then Three Mile Island happens, and they became citizen activists. Their basic sense of reality was turned on its head. They were angry about what had been spoiled in their lives, and their indignance comes across."
The canoe at Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska -- photographed by Wackerbarth -- is "the more fantastic side of the project," says Clarke. "It's the most extreme landscape that was visited, and there's more than one balancing act going on.
"In a sense, it's a stunt picture, but you can look for deeper meanings: the anthropomorphic element, where the warrior is being sent out to be buried in a canoe. It's an archetypal image -- the couch sent out on the ancient water, without a human presence -- and maybe people respond to it on that level.
"Whether that was conscious or not, I don't know, but do images have to be consciously chosen to work? CAPTION: Picture 1, The couch on a canoe in front of Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska. Copyright (c) 1984 by Horst Wackerbarth; Picture 2, The couch with its "nuclear family" and, across the river, the cooling towers of Three Mile Island. Copyright (c) 1982 by Kevin Clarke