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Suburbia on Thin Ice: The Many Illusions of the Suburbs

September 27, 2010

Suburbia is entirely based on perspective: What is seen and unseen? I recently came across Canadian photographer Darren Sydorko’s image, “Suburbia on Thin Ice.”  This photograph is part of Sydorko’s “Vivid” collection.

Sydorko is originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, but currently resides in High River, Alberta, which is where the photo of the man-made lake was taken.

“This particular day in October, the signs were back up and the weather was so calm that the water in the lake was like a mirror. It caught my eye and since I had my camera with me, I decided to snap a couple shots (I actually bracketed a sequence of three shots for HDR processing). I was trying to get the thin ice sign in the frame, as well as the reflection of the homes in the water. But it wasn’t until I got home and processed the images in my digital darkroom that the scene really spoke to me,” says Sydorko.

To the photographer and myself, suburbia can be a reflection of the people that reside in it. Sydorko says that the photograph reminds him of “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds, the opening song for Showtime’s “Weeds.”  Needless to say, this observation is a bit serendipitous for us located in Santa Clarita, as “Weeds” is filmed here.

“When it all came together, I was thinking of how these homes are on the higher end of typical cookie-cutter suburban developments owned by professionals, executives, business owners, and maybe even a few doctors and lawyers, all of whom are likely respected in their community,” says Sydorko. “But it struck me that behind closed doors any one of these homes could host a unique and engaging story; and that story could be a drama, romance, tragedy, or perhaps even a seedier tale of dysfunction (marital problems, addictions, etc.).”

Suburbia is an excessively private place. Our lives are lived behind closed doors. In the WASP tradition, many of us keep our true lives to ourselves, whether we are falling in love or falling apart. Suburbanites appear to have everything in order, when often their lives can be in the opposite condition. With institutions like the Homeowners’ Association, suburbia has become more concerned with appearance than the quality of life.

Sydorko argues, “There’s an element of North American suburbia that portrays safe neighborhoods of accomplished middle class people who embrace the freedom and prosperity of the Western lifestyle. Yet there are those who see it more as ‘little boxes’ of robotic slaves to the capitalist dream, and that our purported freedom is all but an illusion.”

And this is true; the external appearance of suburbia is an illusion. What exactly are we working for while living here? Suburbia is a version of the American Dream embodied. However, are we just buying into the white-picket-fence-and-2.5-children dream? We should not be living here purely on the basis that we are supposed to. Yes, suburbia does offer safety, but it also offers isolation. We become isolated to other classes, races, and even ourselves and our emotions.

“The thin ice sign, being that the winter hadn’t arrived yet so the ice couldn’t be any thinner than it was, just seemed to capture the fragility of the manicured lawn facade behind which the drama of everyday life unfolds, and also the fragility of this era of apparent wealth enjoyed by today’s middle class,” says Sydorko.

The facades of suburbia are quite literally facades. Suburbia is entirely about perspective. One person may love the security, whereas another may find it developmentally stifling. Perhaps the manicured lawns, the fresh paint, and the hidden garbage bins required by HOA are a method of control. By requiring people to appear orderly, they will in turn become orderly. However, by focusing so intently on appearing to have control, we in fact lose control. In the safety of their homes, people are falling apart.

However, I see the reflection in “Suburbia on Thin Ice” as a representation of the innateness of suburbia within us. There is a Heaven vs. Hell dichotomy in the mirror image of the photograph. Perhaps this suggests that they are one in the same; suburbia embodies both. The suburbs can be both good and bad. We can either prosper or fall apart, but we need to open our doors regardless. Let’s get to know our neighbors and ourselves.

Suburbia is on thin ice. It is on the brink of some sort of great change. There is a small chance that the ice will hold, but it will most likely break without any support.

For more information on Darren Sydorko, visit his photo blog:

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 29, 2010 10:21 am

    Love this photo & article 🙂

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