Suburban Subutopia

Exploring contentedness within suburbia with photographer, Wes Foster

Words by Wes Foster

Suburbia is a place that is often overlooked – it is so familiar to us that it feels as if it has come together organically. It is, unlike most other architecture, entirely not designed. Town planners have a hand in it, architects (or builder’s draughtsmen) have a hand in it, and the residents, primarily, have a hand in it.

The way they mow their lawn, keeping it either to a few centimetres of richly light green blades of grass or keeping it as an unkempt swamp of plants and vegetation; the way the front of the house is painted, with a rich white tone, left bare brick or left slowly for the paint that was once there to visibly chip away and eventually disappear; the way that either a stack of objects are left lining themselves along the windowsill, cacti and other plants or a row of dusty books, or in student properties a row of empty alcohol bottles as an act of strange bravado, or nothing at all to adorn the foremost point of the house.

All of these things contribute to the vernacular aesthetic of suburbia, but because it is so familiar, so ingrained it becomes passed over. Suburban Subutopia looks at taking these incredibly familiar places and placing them into an aesthetic context, through a photographic medium. Shooting on 645 but scanning on an extremely high resolution Hasselblad machine allows the dichotomy of contradiction between the form the image takes (the scan) and the subject (the familiar). This is the familiar, but in hyper detail, removed in slight uncomfort from reality, to highlight how we do not think or look at these areas – they simply are an organic development, and nothing more than the spaces that we occupy, that we cook in, that we sleep in, that we exist in.

Politically the project is bipartisan, though has some definite political readings – the images have a certain boundary threshold and either through distance or by the way in which the façade is a times cloaked by the fence or walls, hedges or trees with which we surround our private space, paralleling the nationalist feelings which have been portrayed by the media as the reasons for voting for people like Trump and for leaving the EU, though I see it more as a reflection for how true feelings are closeted, held behind the closed doors of normal residential areas, whilst they are let out in the way we vote or the comments section of news sites. This second life, in which we can live without
accountability and judgement spills out, but mostly we keep up the face of contentedness in the face of unhappiness. In a post-truth society, in which we have dismissed the word of experts, there is nothing stable, and there is no other outlet than the anonymous, because neo liberalism has made the focus of society upon the individual, not on groups. Tabloid newspapers critique people for how they looks, whilst broadsheets blame the individual rather than groups in an across the board ideological movement to separate, and dismiss any idea of pride between people.

Behind these closed doors and walled pathways, gnomes and ponds, ferns and trampolines, there is anger at the system which is left unexpressed, easily guided to populist nationalist expressions of how society can be changed in a simplistic way through fundamentally changing a single thing, rather than entire society, because it is simpler and safer. In part, these images begin to glorify and celebrate these areas again, which otherwise have felt no new funding, no new regeneration, and no outside interest. Because of this, there is little pride in community, little togetherness, and the things which divide are seen as more important than those which bring us together. These images begin to recognise the aesthetic value that is produced in a milieu of housing and residencies, despite it usually being completely unconsidered; by recognising the part we all play in the fruition of the façade we destabilise it, and therefore make it recognised for the aesthetic it is, rather than another overlooked piece of land.

As a publisher and Community Interest Company, TRIP is dedicated to showcasing unconventional stories that may otherwise be overlooked. We aim to give a platform to the unseen and a microphone to the ignored. Expression is a right and should not be confined to those that can afford to work for free; which is why we strive to support a diverse range of creatives in their work, commissioning exciting projects and creatives to visualize them.

Founded as a magazine in 2013 by photographer, Dean Davies, TRIP was born from a desire to provide opportunity and exposure for image-makers across multiple platforms and medias. With a focus on people and place, in 5 years TRIP gained a loyal readership, and became known for its honest image output and representation of the underrepresented, featuring over 800 image-makers from across the world through a website, 5 magazines and 3 free zines.

As TRIP C.I.C. we are not interested in profiting from the activities of the organization, and re-invest all income back in to consecutive publishing projects.

Dean Davies
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