Beth Yarnelle Edwards has been making photographs in suburban middle-class settings in America and in Europe since 1997. Her work has been exhibited and published extensively in the US and Europe, and she has been the subject of solo museum exhibitions at Château d’Eau in Toulouse, France; the Museé de la Photographie å Charleroi, Belgium; The Oakland Museum of California; and the Reykjavik Museum of Photography in Iceland. The winner of CENTER’s 1999 Photography Project Competition, Edwards’ photographs can be found in the collections of SFMOMA, LACMA, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and many other American and European institutions. Edwards’ first monograph, Suburban Dreams, was published by Kehrer Verlag (Germany) in 2011 and was selected for PDN’s Photo Annual 2012.
“Sometimes I’m so interested in what’s going on with people in their homes that I want to know what’s in the closet or under the bed. In my photographs I aspire to tell the viewer not just about what can be seen, but also about things that are hidden and locked away. In 1997 I began photographing in the suburbs of Silicon Valley, where I had lived for many years. These suburbs are a physical embodiment of the American Dream as it has often been represented—a place where natural beauty intersects with opportunities in high tech industry, an increasingly diverse yet predominately affluent population, and access to nearby cultural centers.
Although I started with friends and neighbors, I quickly found myself photographing households several degrees removed. These were strangers introduced to me by people I had already photographed. Then after Suburban Dreams was exhibited and published in Europe, I received invitations to create new work in France, Spain, Holland, Germany and Iceland. Abroad, I’ve met my subjects in a variety of ways, but as always, initial contacts have yielded personal referrals. One of the most startling things about working in other countries has been the discovery of homes that are difficult to distinguish from American living spaces. For that reason, I’ve included some European images in this book.
My intention is not to critique but to observe. I begin with a preview visit, during which I introduce myself and interview potential subjects, asking many open-ended questions and listening carefully to the answers while observing everything I can. Since I consider myself to be a stalker of the real, I have devised rules to keep my photographs as truthful as possible. Though the events pictured are staged, they are based on information obtained from interviews with my subjects and always with their knowledge and consent. I don’t pose people but rather set up improvisations and then wait for an authentic expression, posture, or interaction to appear.
Because I’m intrigued by people, their places, and their things, I’m naturally drawn to the documentary. However, my purpose has also been to make images that are arresting and can stand on their own, like paintings. Composition, color, light, edge detail—aesthetic elements are as important to me as content.
I seek out intersections of the mythic and mundane. As I attempt to reveal some basic truth about my subjects, I’m attracted to the peculiar or surprising. When I succeed, I’ve created an image that is both specific and universal.”
To view more of Beth’s work, please visit her website.