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photo-eye Book Reviews: Suburban Dreams

Suburban Dreams, Photographs by Beth Yarnelle Edwards.
Published by Kehrer Verlag, 2011.
Suburban Dreams
Reviewed by George Slade
Beth Yarnelle Edwards Suburban Dreams
Photographs by Beth Yarnelle Edwards. Essays by Robert Evren and Christoph Tannert
Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, 2011. Hardbound. 96 pp., 56 color illustrations, 11-3/4x9-1/2".

No matter how many people appear in Beth Yarnelle Edwards' photographs, or how captivating the circumstances, the titles are simple -- one or two names, a country or a state (California, a country of its own), and a year. There is one telling exception to the title rule, however, in a pair of pictures titled Home Theatre I from 2000 and Home Theatre II, 2005, in which we see a shot/reverse shot from both ends of a center aisle in a room full of fashionable recliners, video projection apparatus, and popcorn. And people, though they seem as mechanical as the furniture and high tech gear; the featured faces, of Cher and Audrey Tautou (in Amélie), seem far more animated than those of the real people in the room.

Suburban Dreams, by Beth Yarnelle Edwards. Published by Kehrer Verlag, 2011.
Indeed, Edwards' suburban dreamers, named alone or in couples, are largely in a kind of trance. The home theatre photos -- made in California -- sum up the ideal of immersion in vicarious experience, the surrendering of self to an alternate reality, the yearning for transcendence or disconnection. The 2000 photo -- from the back looking to the front -- appears in the second shot, which is a nice bit of closure, not to mention a frightening suggestion that these unnamed people are stuck in this room forever. Only through Edwards' cameras have they been outside the "theatre" in five years.

Suburban Dreams, by Beth Yarnelle Edwards. Published by Kehrer Verlag, 2011.
Suburban Dreams, by Beth Yarnelle Edwards. Published by Kehrer Verlag, 2011.
Judging from the evidence, there's not a lot of life outside the "home theatre" or even the home in any of the pictured scenarios. Looking at the material culture around them, these people seem committed to the notion that while money may not buy happiness, it might pave the way to earthly nirvana. There is one working person, Carlos, attending to sod on a Californian lot along Crestview Drive; his role may be that of hands-on landed gentry or hired landscaper, but the abundance of natural disorder, of work-in-progress (as opposed to paradise claimed), is startling and anomalous. This is also one of a minority of pictures made outdoors (a gorgeously luminous, uncaptioned sunset pool scene facing an introductory essay and a nighttime view of a surfer loading his board onto an SUV are the others).

Often, the captioned name is probably the person in the scene looking back at us, as though offering a theatrical aside through Edwards' camera. Tearing down the fourth wall as our "on-the-scene reporter," they may also be asking us something. Or pleading for deliverance.—GEORGE SLADE

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GEORGE SLADE , a longtime contributor to photo-eye, is a photography writer, curator, historian and consultant based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He can be found on-line at