The Design Observer Group

Posted 05.27.10

Leigh Merrill

Streets: Into the Sunset

Bushes, 30 x 38”, archival inkjet print, 2009.

The Streets series — images that waver between reality and fantasy — arose from my ongoing interests in regionalism, and more specifically in the cultural signifiers of particular places. I've photographed the places where I've lived, motivated by curiosity about the architecture that surrounds us and how it reflects larger ideas of beauty, class, romanticism and even perfection.

In 2007, when I was living in the Bay Area, I began to explore the urban environment, and became fascinated by its complexity. I started to photograph homes, and eventually photographed thousands; I then digitally assembled and reassembled these photographs to create new images; each is typically made from several photographs of individual houses combined with tens to hundreds of smaller bits and pieces from other photographs of houses in the region. At first these images might look plausible; but closer inspection reveals that they are fabricated, and in fact illogical.


These fabrications highlight how our built environments themselves are composites of multiple architectural and landscape styles. These real/unreal images raise questions about the visual cues, barriers and borders that are created in city settings. In White Street, for instance, the structures are all one color, suggesting issues of community, zoning and exclusion. Some of the images show pocket lawns, the narrow strips of grass between sidewalks and driveways. Too small to function as more than a token of the idea of "lawn," they underscore the desire for a sense of space — and spaciousness — and land ownership. Similarly, topiaries evoke landed estates or royal gardens. In an American residential landscape they can imply a desire for wealth or luxury, and also provide clues as to the owners' sensibilities. In Bushes, I engage this issue by creating a street with three homes, each with symmetrical topiaries in their front yards, ornamented to varying degrees. Also in this photograph, the street has been composited from digital files to create what looks like a Rorschach inkblot pattern in the cement — a metaphor for the unconscious desires embodied in and revealed by our anthropogenic environments.

I am fascinated by how seemingly insignificant elements, like small plots of lawn or idiosyncratic topiaries, can hint at who we are. In this series my intention is to mix fact and fiction to open up questions and conversations about our individual desires and collective ideals.