It is a grand notion to think of suburbia as being monumental. Normally perceived in daily life, it seems like a monotonous parade of one block after another, one lawn after the next. If one is attracted to the grandiose, suburbia can often be numbing.
Take a camera into suburbia and it’s hard to find one’s bearings. Creativity can slumber and nod off. Inspiration is hard to find in a strip-mall parking lot or in the interstices of wasteland that separate the fertile patches of lawns and shrubbery. Monumentality is found in the imagination, not in the inherent qualities of the suburban topography. However, let’s remember that anyone can make a compelling photo in Rome or Venice, New York or Paris. Finding inspiration on the edge of a tract-housing development requires fresh perspective and the skills of a keen eye.
The first thing to do is to look at things from a different angle—literally. Mundane objects are made monumental when viewed from extreme angles. Getting way low or way high will reveal hidden wonders in most any location.
There is also hidden geometry in suburbia. One can find compelling design by simply constricting the camera’s view to the simplest of geometric elements. Humans tend to reduce things into simple geometry. Some see it as sacred activity, that there is something innately beautiful in our desire to use standard ratios and angles in our human constructs. Like ants or bees or crystals of ice, we humans form things according to the laws of the universe. Suburbia is no exception. There are hidden designs of great beauty most everywhere we look—if we actually look.
My first-ever professor of photography once told me that all the technique in the world would be useless until I actually learned how to see. It’s been a long, long time since he said that. Finally, I’m beginning to understand what he meant.