There’s something meta about Beth Yarnelle Edwards photographs. In them, she re-creates scenarios from people’s daily suburban lives and the actors she casts play themselves in their own homes. The scenes hinge between authentic and artificial – and all are completely compelling.
An extensive exhibition of Edwards work titled “Suburban Dreams” opens at the Oakland Museum of California this weekend. On display are 22 large-scale color photographs taken from 1997 to 2006 that depict the lives of people—from blue-collar workers to wealthy executives—in their Silicon Valley homes.
“They are authentic scenes from daily life recreated for the camera,” said Edwards during a press preview for the show. “I call it being a ‘stalker of the real.’ It’s more than just a snapshot.”
Edwards’ goal with her photographs is to tell something about her subjects, their home, and the area where they live. And, what’s fascinating to her is suburbia. Edwards grew up in the San Fernando Valley suburbs and spent much of her life living there.
“Most of my neighbors loved where they were. This really was the epitome of an American dream,” she said. “I decided I was going to do an investigation and find out why people love it. I’ll do this as a cultural insider.”
All of Edwards’ photographs are a collaboration between her and her subjects. Every shoot begins with an interview in which Edwards’ asks vague and general questions, like “tell me something about your life.” Afterward, she brainstorms ideas that could capture these people’s daily experience.
For example, in the photo “Colby” Edwards decided to photograph a three-generation family as they typically relax on a Saturday morning. The mom reads magazines on the couch, a small girl plays dress-up, and the teenager tunes everyone out with his headphones on.
In another photo, titled “Katherine,” three children play in their parent’s bedroom. In this picture, as with many others, the poses of the subjects evoke references to famous paintings by Impressionist and Renaissance artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Edgar Dega, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
“The word ‘dream’ evokes aspiration,” Edwards said. “I’m not judging it, I’m documenting it.”
Beth Yarnelle Edwards: Suburban Dreams will be on display at the Oakland Museum of California from January 19 through June 30, 2013.