Going Viral: A Suburban Engagement (Photoshoot)

We had this simple idea: to capture to ambiance of the American subdivision.

I take it back. That wasn't our goal. We wanted to take some engagement photos with my sister-in-law who occasionally moonlights as a wedding photography. On a pleasant autumn weekend, we rushed around to various locations trying to find a nice place to take a photo. In doing so, we realized that we were only capturing two extremes; natural beauty and urban landscapes. It struck us that nearly everyone taking engagement photos uses these locations, and rarely anything in between.

Engagement photos are either urban or rural. They are either a former factory or a leafy meadow, the brick wall of a forgotten factory or an empty beach. Never the subdivision. Never the cul-de-sac. We thought we would have a little fun with the premise.

The soon-to-be-viral suburban photos were hastily thrown together and I posted them on my blog. I didn't think much else of it at the time. I had no idea that they would resonate with so many. It was picked up by StreetsblogGOOD Magazine, and Ryot; and my phone would not stop buzzing with social media updates for the next couple days. It was exciting.

Most people got it. Some didn't. Depending on who you asked, it was either genius or pure delusion, biting commentary or a poor attempt at satire. I don't think it was either. 

I always thought the photos intent spoke for themselves, and I never thought anyone would look into them beyond the surface. We wanted to highlight the poor architecture and urban design that dominates the convention American subdivision. We thought this was self-evident.

There is a reason no one takes engagement photos in the subdivision; they can be places not worth caring about. We wouldn't have been criticized if it was.

The above photo was taken in a half-developed cul-de-sac. The immersive ugliness is omnipresent. They have been vacant for 15 years, while new development has sprung up even further away from the city's core. These are lots that time has forgotten. The only person who seems to care about this land is likely the neighbor who mows the lawn when it gets to high.

The vastness of the cul-de-sac cannot be understated. This is a lot of pavement (and a fire hydrant) that serves two modest 15 year old suburban homes off "Victorian Boulevard" (of which is not a real "boulevard", nor does it pay homage to 19th century English street design).

This is my personal favorite. Everything about the landscape is a painful failure of design: the wide street that tempts vehicles to speed, the absurd driveways so closely placed together to prevent any on-street parking, and the long row of snout houses and blacktop front yards. And, these places aren't cheap. They were selling for around $215,000 (about $65,000 over the area's median home price).

These places were not cherry-picked. They are everywhere. The drive-in snout house is more common than all the brownstones in America by a factor of 20.

We know the story of these places. We know what is next: decline. And, to use a happy couple as the backdrop probably does feel like a slap in the face. While I never intended to make a moral statement (certainly not about individuals living here), the photos do make a judgement on our culture. We build places that cost us lots of money, don't work very well, and people ignore them when they're looking for nice place to take a photo.


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