Liminal Suburbia

For your consideration…

In another post there is a collection of images from the boundary along the California interstate between city and bedroom.

Suburbia may be a boundary between country and city, somehow diminished in the culture as not sophisticated or glib like the city, not homey and common sense like the country. It’s portrayed as “weird around the edges” possibly a little scary, where there might really be Stepford Wives at the swinger parties behind lawns and hummingbird feeders. The interesting bits are in back of those trappings, unfortunately not in this post, however. Go look at Barbara Peacock’s work about American Bedrooms, or that wonderful 1970s book from the San Francisco Bay Area: “Suburbia” by Bill Owens for a tiny peek under the roofs.

Photographers can sometimes seek human drama on city sidewalks, featuring urban decay and weird denizens staggering by in furs and rags, or grand landscape look-at-mes for inspiration. The suburban gets passed by on the way to more real, meaningful, and dramatic places to point lenses. There isn’t even any neon, except maybe in those done-over basements where those outre parties we talked about happen. Poor California, no basements.

This post investigates the liminal along the Pacific, between suburban and wild, or as wild as it gets in 2023. It could be unsatisfying for voyeuristic anthropologists or nature photographers, however. There isn’t even any meaningful light either. The harsh afternoon sun is contrasty, showing too much too clearly according to the taste of some photographers, but then it is the light we see the world with most of the time. Possibly better illumination for bland suburbia with big mountain views obscured by ranch house roofs.

Photographing edges might be best done democratically, as Willian Eggleston expresses it. It’s a difficult, confusing kind of photography annoying many photographers and viewers. Nothing is posed or dramatized. No simple subjects point the viewer towards the easily digested and comfortable, so they can “get it” and move on the the next image safely. Images aren’t built from the edge setting everything just so—they are more center weighted, what you see is what you get with no embellishment. It is sometimes amusing when viewers and photographers get worked up over images like everything we see all our lives without thinking about it, captured in a single bit from the infinite with no instructions.

I do not profess to be particularly as adept at capturing the banal as gifted photographers like Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Alec Soth, Joel Sternfeld, or Todd Hido…but I can keep working at it…


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