Interpreting ‘Suburban Dreams’
A California native brings her portraits of the middle class to Oakland.
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 3, 2013 19:02
The “American dream,” a life of sleepy hills and ticky-tacky houses where children played in the streets until their mothers called them in for dinner and fathers worked high-up at a firm or company.
This dream still exists today, outside of the cities, in quiet suburban communities of the middle- and upper-class. Beth Yarnelle Edwards’ photography exhibition, “Suburban Dreams,” gives an inside look at the American dream today in California, focused on the Silicon Valley.
Edwards grew up and settled down in the sleepy suburbs of the San Fernando Valley and could never find peace in such calm. She craved the fast-paced, flowing noise of the city and the excitement.
In the late ‘90’s, Edwards decided to explore “what people enjoyed about the suburbs as well as the prices they paid to live there, to maintain big homes and lawns but not have much street life.” Edwards’ mission was to set up portraits as a glimpse inside of the Silicon Valley’s wealthy population.
Edwards began her project with family and close friends, as a way of practice and exposure. Eventually friends of friends and their friends began to take note of the photographs and wanted one for their homes.
These were complete strangers to Edwards as she entered their homes to capture a pure, private moment of their home life. To gain their trust and confidence, she begins her process with interviews and from there decides what aspect of their life she would like to highlight.
Following the interview, Edwards meticulously sets up a frame to photograph in and allows her subjects to move organically within the frame to keep the authenticity. When asked if the staged aspect of her photographs detracted from or added to their authenticity Edwards stated, “I think they are more authentic…I am trying to tell a layered story with a lot of information in it.”
To fill out the portrait, Edwards is sure to set up her frame where there are many context clues surrounding the subjects as to what their life is like. It is these minute details that make these portraits both personal and universal.
With the growth of the media and mass influence of materialistic items, the middle class has become universal in their lifestyles and homes. Edwards has taken her glimpse of the suburban life to Europe and comments, “ I think the middle class in Western countries is becoming more and more similar. Some of the homes I photographed in Europe are indistinguishable from American living spaces.”
These portraits are often viewed with a sense of “I could be there” or “that they could be from anywhere at any given time, giving them the sense of a feature portrait.”
These portraits give people a sense of familiarity; however, they also spark controversy. The middle and upper classes are widely regarded in a negative context since the recession, and more recently since Occupy Wall Street spread to a national level.
Now with a show in Oakland, Edwards was asked whether she thought she would receive more negative than positive feedback. In response, Edwards explained how she thought of these pictures with an inspirational theme, regardless of the settings, to the American Dream.
The people, families, posing for these pictures set a wide ranged example of what the early immigrants in America wished to become. However, the highly materialistic content of these pictures, the overload of “things,” could be something that people get stuck on, Edwards remarked.
With outstanding composition, crispness, and context clues the portraits displayed at Edwards’ exhibition, “Suburban Dreams,” give off the feeling that you could be there. These photographs are quiet scenes of the American dream and can be seen until June 30, 2013, at the Oakland Museum of California.
Beth Yarnelle Edwards
1000 Oak Street, Oakland
Through June 30, 2013
$12 General Admission
$9 Seniors & Students