Beth Yarnelle Edwards, "Erin, age 11", 1997, Fuji Crystal Archive print, 14x18”, edition #9/25.

Beth Yarnelle Edwards, “Erin, age 11”, 1997, Fuji Crystal Archive print, 14×18”, edition #9/25.

Beth Yarnelle Edwards

Suburban Dreams

I’m fascinated by the signs and symbols of contemporary life. I’m interested in relationships between people, the spaces they inhabit, and their possessions. My photographs are visual explorations of people, places, and things, in middle-class suburbs of the San Francisco Bay area.

These suburbs are for many a physical embodiment of the American Dream, a place where natural beauty, material comfort, and relative safety intersect with economic opportunities in high tech industry, an increasingly diverse yet predominantly affluent population close to cultural centers. These areas are also outrageously expensive, busy, crowded, and unforgiving of the less skilled or redundant worker.

My color portraits and domestic tableaus are made in collaboration with girls and boys, men and women of all ages. At the beginning of this project, I asked adults to choose a space within their home or its surroundings that reflected their personal identity or sense of self. Unless they had another preference, I photographed children in their bedrooms because I believe that it the place where they have the most autonomy and opportunity for self-expression. Now I am mostly making images of groups of people. Before bringing out the camera I make a preview visit and talk to my subjects about their lives, their homes, and their possessions.

An important feature of my work is that I’m a cultural insider. These people are friends, neighbors, acquaintances, friends of friends, and volunteers who hear about my project. My working methods are designed to keep the balance of power between subject and photographer as equal as possible and though I sometimes allow humor, I do not ridicule. My intention is to explore and critique culture, not the individual.

I realize there may be no absolute truth, that photography is inherently subjective, and that my images will ultimately be as much about me and the viewer as about my subject. I’m trying to locate the place where the mythic intersects with the mundane, where dream merges with reality. I want to attract the viewer’s eye and mind; I want to start a conversation.


Beth Yarnelle Edward’s ongoing color series Suburban Dreams contains sixty images and has been exhibited across the United States, as well as in Europe, and in South America. The recent winner of the 2001 Ruttenberg Foundation Award (for portraiture), Edwards received the Gran Prix at the Salon Internacional de La Recherché Photographique de Royan (France) in 2000 and won the Santa Fe Center for Visual Arts Project Competition in 1999. Her work resides in the permanent collections of seven major US and European Museums including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, TX. Numerous publications include European Photography, New York Times magazine, New Yorker, Harper’s, and FOTO (Netherlands).