Brittany M. Powell, “Debt Portrait #3,” San Francisco, CA 2013Following the 2008 economic crisis, San Francisco-based photographer Brittany M. Powell had trouble finding full-time work. To stay afloat, she started teaching surf lessons, moved to a basement room that cost $500 a month, and bought her groceries with food stamps. But after continuing to tread water for a few years and racking up more than $36,000 in debt, she finally decided to file for bankruptcy in 2012. “I was afraid it would become a badge of failure that I would always wear,” Powell told Hyperallergic regarding the private ordeal she has since chosen to make public.The photographer’s experience inspired The Debt Project, a series of 99 portraits that together paint a collective image of what soaring debt in America looks like. This year alone, the average household in the United States has $201,288 in combined credit card, mortgage, and student loan debt. Compare that to under $2,000 total personal debt per household in the early 1950s. And the problem isn’t confined to individuals. Since 2010, eight American cities have filed for bankruptcy, including Detroit in Michigan and Harrisburg in Pennsylvania. The US national debt is almost $18 trillion.