Taylor Dorrell photographs the daily lives of teenagers growing up in America’s suburban Midwest
We are expanding the exhibition space for OpenWalls Arles 2020. As part of this second open call, we are highlighting photographers whose work relates to the theme: Daily Life. Calls open on Tuesday 10 September 2019 at 2pm (UK time).
“American suburbs are, or at least were, the American Dream,” says Taylor Dorrell, “but for kids growing up there, they’re a boring place they want to leave.” Dorrell’s series White Fences explores the lives of teenagers growing up in suburban communities in America’s Midwest. Centred around New Albany, Ohio, where he grew up, the project reflects on the mundanity associated with suburban life, but also captures the beauty of uneventfulness. “There are peace and privilege in this boredom,” he explains. “The suburbs are where nothing happens, but where former generations aspired, and fought, to get to.”
Dorrell began shooting White Fences after completing several projects that focused on US politics. In 2016, he photographed Swing State, which followed the presidential election in Ohio, observed through rallies and protests. “I was interested in making something in contrast to the political work I was doing at the time,” he explains. “And I thought that photographing middle-class youth might reveal the political implications of their demographic.”
However, the outcome of the work was not what Dorrell had anticipated. “The images took on a less political form and a more reflective, mundane one,” he says. “I now think of the project as a romanticised documentation of what remains of America’s shrinking middle-class.”
This feeling of nostalgia is ever-present in the work, as is a sense of transience. The scenes are sparse and barren, the houses are identical, and their interiors are colourless. Dorrell captures his subjects in limbo; in many of the photographs, he pictures them looking away from the camera, as though they are unsettled, dreaming or disengaged. Photographed on the brink of adulthood, either returning home from college for the holidays, or about to move out onto campus, the images position the suburbs as safe yet dull havens. His subjects have outgrown their adolescent rooms and high school activities. For the youth growing up in these suburbs, they are not aspirational places, but rather physical embodiments of their childhood — homes that they are almost, but not quite ready, to leave.