A reader sent me a link to a “The Slate” review of Beth Yarnelle Edwards’ portfolio “Suburban Dreams.” Actually, I recommend that you visit her website, as well, since there are lots more images than in “The Slate” article. Well, I have to say that this work is fascinating. The term “Suburban Dreams” immediately conjures up two mental images: the first is the movie “The Stepford Wives,” and the second is a quote that rings in my head from Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.” I am shocked to find that at some point I disposed of my copy. Thank, God, for the internet!
“They had a big, rambling house up the street from us, set behind a morbid facade of pine trees, and surrounded by scooters, tricycles, doll carriages, toy fire trucks, baseball bats, badminton nets, croquet wickets, hamster cages and cockerspaniel puppies – the whole sprawling paraphernalia of suburban childhood.”
Edwards’ goal was to create pseudo candid images. She observes people that she knows in their homes and other spaces, watches their lives, and when a moment or expression grabs her, she asks them to freeze. The effect is vivid; the subjects seem almost manikin props or people caught like deer in the headlights. The pictures immediately remind me of the work of Joel Myerowitz, whose posed photographs often look like candids. In particular there is “An Afternoon on the Beach, 1983,” a seemingly innocuous image until you look closely and realize that the same people appear several times in the image.
Consider Ms. Edwards’ image “Lorraine.” What are we to make of this? It seems more than a picture of a woman on a bed. There is a story. We see the crucifixes on the wall, the two telephones on the nightstand, the empty bed and the sad look of the woman on the bed. Is she waiting for someone? Is she worried? Is someone gone or worse passed on? There is huge pathos here, all captured in a simple “image.”
If you go to her HOLLAND Portfolio and then look at image 5 “Josien.” Again this seems very innocuous. But you wonder what is the content of the letter? I made the immediate association, maybe it’s the Holland aspect of the portfolio, with Jan Vermeer’s “The Love Letter, 1666.”
There is also the wonderful picture (number 3 in the Holland Portfolio) of little Friedo racing down a long white hallway on a scooter. This is one of those great recurrent mythic themes, the long passageway of birth, moving towards the light, or perhaps it is the rebirth that some primitive cultures create as a rite of liminal passage, It shows the great joy of youthful motion and is symbolic as much as it is literal.
I have spent a lot of time studying and restudying Beth Yarnelle Edwards’ photographs. Perhaps this is the greatest compliment that I can pay her. They are fascinating and beautiful. And I think that they teach us that complaining that you have nothing to photograph is really only an admission of lack of imagination. Ms. Edwards has done a wonderful job of weaving complex stories out of seemingly mundane situations.